Friday, December 16, 2011

Deja Vu Blogfest!

DL Hammons - among others - is hosting the very fun Deja-Vu Blogfest today! The idea is for bloggers to re-run their favourite old posts, perhaps from before they encountered many of their followers.

My actual favourite blog post is surprisingly popular, given that it's called 'Grabbing Life by the Bouillabaisse'. But it's only one paragraph long, so I have decided to pretend that I'm far more highbrow than I actually am by repeating a post about a book. Here is my sort-of-second, almost-joint-first, kind-of-one-and-a-halfth favourite blog post, about one my my all-time favourite books - 84 Charing Cross Road.

It's an All Bar One now.

84 Charing Cross Road, that is. The most iconic bookshop in an iconic street of bookshops. And it's a pub.

The person who first lent me 84 Charing Cross Road may be able to see the positive side of this. Me not so much.

The first time I read Helene Hanff's most famous book was in a volume that included The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, a later account of her trip to London long after the death of Frank Doel. It's a delightfully London-y book, and Helene Hanff is like a Dorothy Parker that you wouldn't be scared to invite to your parties. Smart, acerbic, New Yorker, likes martinis, but paradoxically not prone to having feuds with people and attempting suicide. What's not to love?

When I borrowed the book first, I refused to give it back until I'd bought my own copy (this is still a sore point). I knew that I could never go to London without it, because when Helene Hanff finally made her life-changing trip to London, nearly a decade before I was born, she stayed in My Bit. My Bit is Bloomsbury. Next to the British Museum, close to Russell Square (one of my all-time favourite parks), walking distance to Oxford Street, Covent Garden and - natch - Charing Cross Road. I am extremely attached to My Bit. It has pretty brown-brick buildings that remind me of seeing 10 Downing Street on TV when I was a kid. Black Books was set there. UCL and Birkbeck are there. There is a three-story branch of Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road that I once visited with a friend late on a Thursday evening in December. We got a doubled-over giggling fit in the lift in our hotel because we felt so decadent buying stationery in the dark.

Substantial parts of My Bit also got blown up in July 2005. Usually, when places I love get blown up, I book a flight to them. Like Helene Hanff, bound for London still crippled by a recent hysterectomy, I can never just go to places. Disasters tend to drive me there.

Since I read 84 Charing Cross Road, the small volume including The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street has come with me on every trip to London. My edition has a quote on the cover, taken from the publicity material for the film adaptation, which describes the book as a love story. This incensed me the first time I read it - the platonic nature of Helene Hanff's friendship with Frank Doel is the best bloody thing about the book, as far as I'm concerned - but I got over it. It is a love story - several love stories - and that's why it comes to London with me every time. Partly because the second book is a love letter to My Bit (even if Helene never went to the British Museum, mad heathen that she was), partly because the first book is all about second-hand books, which I buy in vast quantities every time I'm in London, and partly because 84, Charing Cross Road is one of the best accounts I have read about friendship and how it can begin in the strangest of circumstances and survive for so long. When you find yourself in a city that you love in the way that normal people love other people, it's nice to have something to remind you why getting on the plane home is a good idea.

Annoyingly, though, I can't go into number 84 and buy a book each trip, as a sort of thank you to Marks & Co. for making my trips richer. But even more annoying is the other book that has to come with me on every trip to London, the only other book I've read that comes close to 84, Charing Cross Road in its love for London.

Forever Amber. Forever sodding Amber. 972 pages. Do you have any idea how much that thing weighs?


  1. This was a delightful post (as was Bouillabaisse) and a pleasure to read. I love reading about peoples relationships with books that have such a impactful affect. Excellent selection!

    Thank you for taking part in our blogfest and helping to make today to special! :)

  2. I LOVE books! But, heavy ones can be a challenge! :)

  3. Fun post and fun to read, thank you! I haven't read it, but now I really want to.

  4. Great post, I love books and had to chuckle about the 972 pages. You can hurt your back with some of these things. :D
    I'm a new follower from the Deja Vu fest and it's great to meet you!

  5. Oh, you made me smile. There are so many places I want to visit because of how they were brought alive in a book.

  6. I'd be ticked a bookstore was transformed into a pub. Gimme a bookstore any time!

  7. I just looked up Forever Amber based on the sheer amount of pages. Wow.
    Oh the things we do for books :)

  8. Loved the book, loved the film - 84 Charing Cross Road that is!

    Take care

  9. I haven't read either of these books. Thanks for the heads up! Nice to meet you during this great blogfest.

  10. I come here via the blogfest I enjoyed your write though I haven't read any of the books.
    Great to meet you.
    Good Luck.

  11. I love it when I come across gems like this. Especially when I haven't read it yet. Sounds like I need to, though!

  12. I love books...they are an inexpensive 'vacation' for me and they allow me to be nosy within a person's life. I enjoy 'thick' books because there's nothing worse than a good story coming to an end too fast. I've been looking for advantages to books going electronic and the 900+ pages is definitely one.

  13. You need to get the eBook copy of Forever Amber! Much lighter.

  14. Sorry to be so late coming here, I'm trying to catch up with all the blogs I missed in this event and am loving visiting them all!

  15. Thanks for dropping by DL, and thanks for hosting the blogfest :) It's been one of my favourites!

    Margo, I know the feeling! I have a Kindle now which is fantastic for travelling. So lught and compact!

    Thanks Lydia! If you do read it, I hope you enjoy it :)

    Julie, I chuckle too when I think of it - to date, I've brought that book on several holidays. I never learn!

    Vicki, I was ticked too! Bookshops are less common than pubs, so we need them more :) Loved your Mock Me Monday post btw!

    I know, Coleen, books are behind some of my daftest decisions!

    Kitty, I haven't seen the film but my mum loves it and it's on our to-watch list for Christmas this year :D can't wait!

    Nice to meet you too, Lyn!

    Yvonne, thanks for your comment. I enjoyed reading the poetry on your blog too.

    Nisa, if you decide to read it, I hope you like it :)

    Lost, I totally agree! I love seeing a new place or time through books. And I prefer TV shows to movies because they go on for longer :)

    Alex, I must take a look alright!

    Hywela, no problem, I'm late myself. Also, I love your name!

  16. I love your love story about this book. That IS a big book.

  17. I've heard of the book, but never got around to reading it.


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