Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bookstore Memories

When I was at university ( or, as they say now in various places, at uni or at college) there was no such thing as a college bookstore where a student could retreat, reading list in hand, and pick up all the texts required for upcoming courses. We sat down, fountain pens in hand, and wrote to our bookstore of choice (Foyles on Charing Cross Road, Blackwells in Oxford come to mind) to request the texts we needed for the upcoming term—or was it semester, I don't remember. We politely asked for second hand texts in good shape and we trusted them not to send, and demand payment for, new ones.

Helene Hanff's apartment is on the left, the bookstore of Marks and Co. on the right.
So much of this came to mind last Fall when my son-in-law directed a production of 84, Charing Cross Road. The above photo includes some of the tech people: the cast is very small. It is a tour de force for the actress playing Helene Hanff and the actor playing Frank Doel of Marks and Co. Helene and Frank forge a delightful long distance relationship as she writes to him requesting books and she does her best to make up for the deficiencies in British post-war diet by sending a box of nutritious foodstuffs at regular intervals. I know that 84 no longer exists, but of course Foyles does.

My husband bought books across the Atlantic from Heffers in Cambridge and Blackwells in Oxford. Sorting through one of his many piles of papers the other day he came across this letter:

Imagine Amazon being half this polite.

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