Monday, July 30, 2007

Truth and Humor in Letters

I finally got around to reading 84, Charing Cross Road after watching the movie starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins at least half a dozen times over the last decade. The movie is perfectly cast, by the way, and I can hear Anne Bancroft's hysterical, eccentric voice as I read her words. For those of you unfamiliar, it's a true story in letters for book lovers. During the 50s and 60s, bibliophile Helene Hanff shared letters with Frank Doel at Marks & Co. Booksellers in London. Helene's quirky, irreverent Yankee sense of humor is contrasted with Frank's dry British reserve, but you can tell they adore each other, especially because of their shared love of literature. Is there a better bond with another human than loving the same book in the same way? Not for me.

It also doesn't hurt that Helene goes gaga for Pride & Prejudice and The Wind in the Willows. As a result, I'm able to ignore her critiques of fiction in general.

Anyway, go out and buy it. It only takes a couple of hours to read, but I need a copy for my shelves to reread often. And rent the movie, which is great. For your enjoyment I provide below a portion of one of Helene's funnier letters:

"i don't know frankie--

Somebody gave me this book for Christmas. It's a Giant Modern Library book. Did you ever see one of those? It's less attractively bound than the Proceedings of the New York State Assembly and it weighs more. It was given to me by a gent who knows I'm fond of John Donne. The title of the book is:

The Complete Poetry & Selected Prose of
JOHN DONNE
& The Complete Poetry of
WILLIAM BLAKE?

The question mark is mine. Will you please tell me what those two boys have in common?--except they were both English and they both Wrote? I tried reading the Introduction figuring that might explain it. The Introduction is in four parts. Parts I and II include a Professor's life of Donne mit-illustrations-from-the-author's-
works-also-criticism. Part III begins--and God knows I quote--:

'When, as a little boy, William Blake saw the prophet Ezekiel under a tree amid a summer field, he was soundly trounced by his mother.'

I'm with his mother. I mean, the back of the Lord God or the face of the Virgin Mary, all right--but why the hell would anybody want to see the prophet Ezekiel?

I don't like Blake anyway, he swoons too much, it's Donne I'm writing about, I am being driven clear up the wall, Frankie, you have GOT to help me."

1 comment:

hambone said...

Oh, I LOVED this book. I read it ages ago and now I want to go read it again. But I haven't seen the movie, because several people said that it was turned into a love story, and that's not what the book is at all. Did you get that impression from the movie?

I didn't realize it was Anne Bancroft -- it makes me want to reconsider....