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Genre: Fiction, Epistolary (letters)
Start Date: Dec. 31, 2010
Finished Date: Dec. 31, 2010 (> 1 day!)
Where Found: Xmas 2010 gift from dad (off my wish list)
Why Read: After a journey through the Congo in The Poisonwood Bible, I needed a short, sweet taste of literature to clean the palette.
Summary: A New York writer strikes up a business relationship & subsequently a friendship with a London-based rare bookstore proprietor, his staff & even his family through a series of letters both requesting material and gently bickering about the state of early literature.
It is amazing how letter-writing (whoever deemed it a lost art was indeed correct) can form the basis of a story's plot. When the finished products and sometimes, though they are not always included or received, the replies are ordered in a deliberate fashion they conjure up an unexpected progression of story that functions without dialogue, without omniscient description, but with bursts of multiple first-person characterizations that release inklings of personality that would otherwise be read between the lines.
Pen pal writing is often a childhood hobby that lasts feverishly and tends to peter out by the time high school or college rolls around and life gets in the way, doomed like an unstable long-distance relationship. Adult pen pals are a rarity that Hanff creates & snowballs out of the initial request for a book from her, the New York writer, to him, the London proprietor of a rare bookstore at the titular location. To paraphrase a line from Casablanca, this is the start of a beautiful (accidental) friendship.
Helene is a delightfully funny character with a strict, heartened penchant for fossilized literature that very few recognize, let alone read and savour as she does. But reading can be a lonely endeavour if it is not shared with someone else. Thoughts, pleasantries, criticisms, and food is shared between Hanff and Frank Doel (with occasional cameos by his staff and family) for twenty years beginning during WWII when British rationing is intact, remedied by Hanff's parcels of meat, eggs, and cheese.
Book lovers and even those who rarely read but aspire to more while admiring from afar, will find a newfound love in this tiny literary gem. What could be better than reading about a love of reading? To romanticize it even further, I read it from beginning to end on a quiet New Year's Eve with gently falling snow and a glass of wine. It was a superb experience.
P.S. The 1987 movie starring the lovely, late Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins is a loyal companion to the book that I equally liked and hope you will too :)
Rank: (A+)- Must-read, Highly recommended