05 October 2009

Gentlemen...

Gentlemen:

Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase "antiquarian booksellers" scares me somewhat, as I equate "antique" with expensive. I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions...

I enclose a list of my most pressing problems. If you have clean secondhand copies of any of the books on the list, for no more than $5.00, will you consider this a purchase order and send them to me?


This letter, written on October 5, 1949 in a Manhattan brownstone, began a twenty year relationship between book lover and bookseller. It also formed the beginning of the book 84. Charing Cross Road. And this happens to be one of my favorite books.

I'm writing about this today because, in case you didn't do the math, this letter was written 60 years ago today. Also noteworthy (to me, anyway) is that the writer, Helene Hanff, happened to be my age when she penned it (typed it, more likely.) This is hard to imagine when you watch the movie and see the quite middle-aged Anne Bancroft playing the part of the script reader/writer. It's hard to imagine Helene Hanff watching The Graduate, and thinking "she should play me when I was younger". Ha.

Anyway, though I share a few things in common with Hanff - loving all kinds of books, especially English Literature; no discernible romantic relationships; a fondness for Central Park; affinity for over sized shoulder bags - our lives aren't exactly parallel. It's kind of rare to develop friendships with booksellers in other countries nowadays. Amazon, and similar sites, are really impersonal, even if you can review your purchases. Then again, Helene Hanff did not have Library Thing. You take the good, you take the bad...

Either way, here's to the 60-year old beginning of a beautiful friendship.

3 comments:

Marlena said...

Have you tried www.alibris.com for your book habit? They aften have a good selection of fairly inexpensive , sometimes downright cheap, books. I use them especially for tea books and mysteries, especially the classic mysteries from the 30s or English ones. Good luck

Gata said...

Yes, I use Alibris...they're great. Thanks!

notare said...

I love this book, and the movie it inspired. Sadly, I think the business of books has changed so much that it's near impossible to create and nurture relationships like the one she had. The business has changed.

I haven't tried aLibris - how is it?