Book Chats on Booklovers.
Frail the hand that seeks the volume, that this morning read The Mail.
Searching now, in springtime’s senescence……where, oh where, the Holy Grail?
Publius Sirus and Hippocrates, Aristotle and Carneades
Classics...Roman, Greek and Hebrew...
in basement shelving, hidden from view.
Faded spreads, foxed in places, tied in bundles, unopened pages.
Hands atrembling hold up to view, forget the mildew...ah, deja-vu.
What’s this here? Something special?
Bottom shelf lowest level?
Choirs of angels, furtive glances, treasure here, a fore-edge bevel..!
Stand up slowly, creaking elbows..find the light, a window view.
Is it? It is...a Baron Corvo! Joy abounding…who else to know?
Frail the hand that holds the volume, that this morning read The Mail.
Comfort now, springtime’s senescence……at last, at last, the Holy Grail.
R. J. Speer.
“One reaps what one sows” . Galatians. 6.7.
This issue last updated June 22nd 2020..
Marks & Co, the firm of book sellers, first located to London's Charing Cross Road in 1929, to Number 84 in fact.
In 1970 they closed their doors for the last time. And now?
Well, in May 2015 the premises reinvented itself as a McDonald's!
(I have to say, I find this desperately sad. Soul food for a lifetime..fast food for twenty minutes!)..
All that remains? A discrete brass plaque......
Such, it seems, is the path to oblivion (you can just see the plaque, near the top of the left hand marble pillar, in the third image and just below the awning)..
But wait...discrete, yet well known in its day, Marks & Co enjoyed the patronage of public institutions, such as universities and The British Museum. Michael Foot former Leader of the Labour party obtained a Preservation Order. Actors Charlie Chaplin, David Niven and Jack Hawkins; The writer George Bernard Shaw; Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke; Sigmund Freud; occultist Aleister Crowley and descendants of the Duke of Wellington, were all among its customers......
All is definitely not what it seems.
In 1949, in the depths of postwar austerity, the firm took an ad in The Saturday Revue of Literature. A Helene Hanff, a New York book lover, autodidact, and aspiring writer aged 33, responded. Here is her first letter to Marks & Co, below left, dated October 5th 1949. Their correspondence ran till 1968. From such humble beginnings developed one of the great book stories of the 20th century.
Well, what goes around comes around; my name's certainly not Frank Doel, and our bookshop is certainly not in London's Charing Cross Road, but, my word, it's not often one gets a letter like the one also shown below right!
This neatly handwritten missive dropped through our letterbox just recently, on May 21st, 2016 in fact, having been posted (sea mail...it said) on May 5th.
I say “not often” , but “never before” is more correct, and that in thirty-four years of book trading!
Here is someone who is so taken, so enthused, by watching Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins in the 1984 film of the book 84 Charing Cross Road * (just as I was), she puts pen to paper on impulse, and the rest, in our own small way, will become history.
Also, in the depths of these small hours, I ponder....could I watch a film in Chinese? Locate a bookshop in a Chinese village? And then write to them in Chinese? No way!
There is an element of youthful courage here**, the call of the wild, and so it deserves its rich reward.
And here's another thing.....how marvellous to know these Book Chats are being read in central China….and how even more wonderful that Helene Hanff's delightful book of letters is still remembered there and admired down the arches of the years. It's all about having a soul, and I elaborate on this in Issue 3, No. 6.
So, well done Braveheart…...(one is reminded of a stanza by Robert Service**)...book parcels are coming...hold steady....and our story will be updated as our correspondence develops.
*Helene Hanff. 1971. Andre Deutsch.
[P.S. Note added on June 19th 2016. Our first parcel of paperbacks, despatched June 6th, has now arrived. But, it was held in destination Customs for five days "for examination"...."Ah-Ha" (thinks Customs offical)....."these books by...... Beatrix Potter, Jane Austen, Helene Hanff..could they hold subversive thoughts..? Who these women? Better phone boss...check names on data base" . It would make the basis of a good Monty Python sketch!].
P.S. Interested readers might find the following sites of interest.....
[Angela Garry writes: "If any other fans have cards from Helene that they would like to see included on my site, please contact me at: email@example.com "].
**They have cradled you in custom, they have
Primed you in their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through
They have put you in a showcase, you’re a
Credit to their teaching-----
But can’t you hear the wild…..it’s calling you.
Robert Service. 1874 - 1958.
[Note added June 2020. Over four years have now passed and our correspondence is flourishing. A remarkable story of courage and determination is emerging, but more of that later...maybe in Summer 2020.]