Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Some Titles In Search of a Post? A Miscellaneous Collection . . .

Have any of you read Helene Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road or seen the movie based on this wonderful 20-year correspondence between a New York writer and the London used-book store whose address gives the book its title? First published in 1970, a gem of wit and style and the possibility of connection forged across an ocean merely through the power of the written word. I don't know how I missed this through my reading life, but having come to it this late I intend to be a bit of an evangelist. . . I'm planning to order some copies to have on hand for gifts. But first I need to get my very own copy so that I might reread at leisure -- I read this in a library copy that I had to wait ages and ages for -- its popularity apparently continues. . .

I read that collection of letters back in the summer heat, in the same weeks that I read Kate Harris' Lands of Lost Borders: Adventures on the Silk RoadSince I'm so far behind here, I'll just tell you that I recommend this highly if you're at all interested in traveling vicariously -- across Western China, and then from Turkey across to the Himalayas?  by bicycle? through blistering heat and then bone-chilling cold (snow included)? often lacking the proper permissions and documentation? Harris writes brilliantly, not only about her travels themselves -- the geographies, cultures, peoples that she observes -- but also about the philosophical underpinnings of her worldview, of why she travels. Here's a review from The Globe and Mail, and here's a radio interview with Harris.

Some of you commented, at my last post, about having read Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing and being most impressed by it. I agree -- the novel uses to great effect a narrative structure that often falls flat, the trick of having one generation succeed another over two or three hundred years. Annie Proulx did this with Barkskins and as much as I've loved her other writing, I thought the book ever so ponderous and it was hard for me to care for characters who walked across the (figurative) stage too quickly. Gyasi, though, a first-time novelist at that, deftly connects us to a character in each time period and ensures that the line between that character and those of other generations is tight enough and strong enough to keep us caring. The human lineage is the story here, genealogy having been so damaged through the violence of slavery. But while Gyasi works to illuminate the big story, the overall destruction, she never sacrifices a character to a cause, and although her characters must quickly give way to the next generation's, they are nevertheless given enough time to let us know and care about them. Recommended!

I picked up Rebecca Scherm's Unbecoming from the bookshelf of the AirBnB we rented in Lyon back in May (see how far behind I am?!) . This is another debut novel, a mystery that was nominated for an Edgar for Best First Novel, and I would definitely read another by Scherm. The book is as much philosophical or psychological, in some ways (à la Ruth Rendell), as who-done-it (or, better, what did she do?), and asks some interesting questions about identity. Even better, it places these questions in the context of a fascinating world -- that of art and antiques restoration in Paris. Oh My!! Here's a brief review for you.

Joanna Cannon's The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a delightful mystery, set in one unseasonably hot summer in late '70s suburban England. Deliciously full of a neighbourhood's secrets, which two girls, on the threshhold of puberty, decide to investigate so as to find a disappeared wife. . . The mystery and the coming-of-age, that tension between innocence and experience, the girls' navigation between morality and religion and social righteousness and nastiness. . . Very enjoyable and thought-provoking to boot.

This barely gets me to the end of my summer reading and here we are halfway through fall. I will try my best to get back here soon, but you know how likely that is. Before I go, I'll just mention a few books I've read recently and happily recommend:  Michael Ondaatje's Warlight ; Miriam Toews' Women Talking; and Patrick DeWitt's French Exit; Tom Rachman's The Italian Teacher; and C. S. Anderson's The End of the Alphabet.

16 comments:

  1. You may receive this comment twice - I seem to be having problems posting. Like another of your readers I haven't been commenting much, because of personal issues relating to my husband's health.However, I just had to reply to this as "84 Charing Cross Road" is one of my all time favourite books. My mother gave it to me in the late seventies and it has a special place in my bedside book shelf, ready to be read and reread (just this summer in fact). I'm so glad you discovered it - it's a book-lover's book for sure! There are sequels and a companion piece ("Duchess of Bloomsbury" and "Q's legacy") but nothing compares to "84." There was also a television film a number of years ago that was quite good.
    By the way, I may not be commenting but I am still reading and enjoying both your blogs!
    Frances in Sidney

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    1. So glad to hear from you, Frances, and I'm sorry to hear about the concerns with your husband's health.
      We might have been reading 84 Charing Cross Road at the same time this summer, then, although I was just discovering it. I so often feel that this is what we lose these days -- the backlist, as we used to call it when I worked, briefly, in a bookstore. The emphasis is so much on what's new, what's been nominated for this or that prize, what we need to read so that we can all be ready to discuss with friends. . . but these old gems deserve to be kept in the public eye as well -- I'm so glad someone nudged me in this one's direction.

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  2. Yes , loved 84 Charing Cross Road . I seem to need more ‘ gentle ‘ books than I used to do . Still love mysteries but avoid too much gore & stress . I don’t know if it is the age we are living in or just my age . Will check out your recommendations. Thankyou .
    Wendy in York

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    1. I know many readers who are feeling this need for the gentler books. You're not alone. . .

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  3. Add me to the list of those loving "84 Charing Cross Road" -- the book and the movie. Anne Bancroft was such a great actress. Gone too soon. I have a copy of the book and the movie resides on my DVR. Both excellent for repeat reading/viewing.

    Like Wendy, the stress of the times has me seeking out gentle reading.

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    1. So you all knew about this great book and didn't tell me? ;-)
      Actually, someone must have told me, somewhere, because I did finally catch on. . . Good to know it's still being appreciated. I need to see if I can find the movie somewhere; I also admire Anne Bancroft's work.

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  4. Oh dear, I read 84 Charing Cross Road years ago too, loved it, and had forgotten it. I will add it to my list, I mostly live in the land of the backlist and am a chronic re-reader.

    Right now there are three diggers and their crew in my yard...long awaited and positive but my leisure activities must bring calm...so Donna Leon (reareads!) and episodes of Gardeners' World to support my dreams (now becoming reality) of new garden beds to be filled.

    Do some of the books you read on your travels form part of the total memory of the trip? (They do for me, you would have guessed that from the question :) )

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    1. There's so much pleasure in re-reading, not only of returning to an old favourite but also of remembering who we were when we read for the first or the third or the nineteenth time. . .
      And yes, to your last question, although I can't think of specifics right now. . . Good luck with the noise and busy-ness in your back yard right now -- how wonderful to look forward to planting next spring in new beds.

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  5. Adore "84 Charing Cross Road", which I've read approximately 6732 times. Or more.:) I love it. I also own the film, which is one of the few films I think holds up to its book, and is also wonderful in its own right. The cast is perfection. I love the Americans choosing foods to send to the Brits; I love so much of it. *Sigh* (We weren't so much keeping this book from you as feeling sure you had already read it.:)

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    1. This makes me chuckle (in grateful appreciation) -- of course I should have read it by now and it's absolutely reasonable that you all would have thought so. xo

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  6. I read 84 Charing Cross Road and enjoyed the movie years ago. Anne Bancroft was such a great actress in the role. We read Homegoing for book club and thought it impressive as a first novel. I'm listening to The Tattooist of Auschwitz for a group I am leading. I've never listened to an audio book before but there are no library copies available. I'm finding the subject extremely unpleasant and I wonder if I skip violent bits when I read (probably). I am in need of gentler books as well. I could revisit the L'Engle or Sarton journals in my boxes. I really enjoyed them in the 1990's. Sarton's were about visitors, gardens, pets and feelings. Nothing gruesome there. You worked in a bookstore too? I worked at Booktique, a small independent store that was near Diane's Lingerie on Granville. It was a tiny place that specialized in art and architecture books. I spent more money than I made.

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    1. I haven't listened to audio books yet myself and I'm not sure if I could surrender myself to the different medium. . .
      And yes, in fact we were on the verge of buying a bookstore in the late 90s, so I worked there for about six months to learn the ropes -- and then the owner decided she couldn't bear to sell. . . At the time I was devastated, but given what's happened to most of the independents since, it was probably for the best. And instead, I did my PhD. . . (Plus I'd have been like you and never made a cent for all the books I'd have brought home! ;-)

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  7. This is the first time I've ever heard about 84.....Why has nobody mention it before?
    I used to reread my favourite books a lot before....first time gobbling it fast ,following the plot and second and all the other times enjoying the style,sentences......
    Homegoing was epic,strong and illuminating in a way-excellent for a debut book. I had to "refresh" some characters and relations from time to time but,luckily, I was reading the real,paper book (and was happy for it),so it was not difficult
    I tend to read more "gentle"books as well lately,or reading some of my free Samsung books,like Jennifer Handford's Daughters For a Time or Luke Alnutt's We Own the Sky (both pretty sad)
    I've read Lisa's recommendations: Andrew Sean Greer's Less and Claire M. Johnson's Beat Until Stiff and second the references (both for different reasons)
    I remember that you don't like history mysteries but I was very happy reading one of my favourite authors CJ Sansom's new book Tombland
    Dottoressa

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    1. See? They kept it secret from you as well! ;-) I know you're going to love this book and we'll spread the word together.
      I might try C.J. Sansom, if the author's a favourite of yours. There have definitely been historical mysteries I have liked through the years, and it's good not to be rigid, right?

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  8. If you were giving it a try,(and he is one of my favourite comfort reading)-best to start from the beginning,with Dissolution or Dark Fire
    D.

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  9. I love 84... but haven't reread it a long while. I remember reading a friend's mother's copy in college, and ordering my own from the local bookstore. It was already on the backlist and I remember waiting impatiently -- 4 weeks -- you must remember those days before we could click a button and books would magically appear. Then a couple of years later my copy was stolen and although I meant to replace it I never did. It is probably about time.
    I've not read any of the others except Warlight which I loved, although several were already on my burgeoning lists, and more titles have been added.

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