Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 2003-2008 Evelyn C. Leeper.

APPLE OF MY EYE by Helene Hanff:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/09/2004]

Helene Hanff is best known as the author of 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, but she has written some other books as well. One, APPLE OF MY EYE, is a guidebook (of sorts) to Manhattan, written as a series of descriptions of the trips Hanff took researching Manhattan to write a book about it for tourists. (Whether this is the intended book, or just a side effect is not clear.) Of course, being twenty-five years old, it is quite out of date, and not just for its descriptions of the World Trade Center. I know the suggested admission to the Metropolitan is not $1.75, and many of the other sights she described are gone or changed. For New Yorkers, though, it is a great nostalgic look at the city.

To order Apple of My Eye from, click here.

84 CHARING CROSS ROAD by Helene Hanff:


Q'S LEGACY by Helene Hanff:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/20/2003]

I did my usual periodic "comfort reading" recently of the "Charing Cross Road" trilogy. This comprises Helene Hanff's "84 Charing Cross Road". "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street", and "Q's Legacy". The first is the most familiar, particularly to me, since I listen to it on audiotape frequently. (For those unfamiliar with these books, Hanff was a scriptwriter in New York who struck up a correspondence with an antiquarian bookshop in London while trying to find English literature not in print in the United States. The second is about her experiences after the first one made her famous, and the third is about how she discovered a lot of this literature in the first place, from Arthur Quiller-Couch's writing.)

But something has always bothered me. In her first letter, Hanff says she encloses a list of her "most pressing needs." The reply says, "In reply to your letter of October 5th, we have managed to clear up two-thirds of your problem. The three Hazlitt essays you want are contained in the Nonesuch Press edition of his 'Selected Essays' and the Stevenson is found in 'Virginibus Puerisque' . . . . The Leigh Hunt essays are not going to be so easy . . . . We haven't the Latin Bible you describe . . . ."

What I can't figure out is how Marks & Co figured they had solved two-thirds of her problem. It appears she requested three Hazlitt essays, a Stevenson essay, some Leigh Hunt essays, and a Latin Bible. And they sent back the Hazlitt and the Stevenson. If you could all the essays for a given author as one request, they "cleared up" half her problem. If you count the essays separately, they sent her four items (three Hazlitt essays and a Stevenson), meaning two were left. But clearly there is more than one Leigh Hunt essay, so this can't be it either.

I know that the answer is that they weren't being mathematically precise, or maybe the Bible didn't count for some reason, but the mathematician in me finds it irksome.

On my business trip to Swindon in 2000, I managed to find Quiller- Couch's anthologies of English and Victorian verse in nice editions in Ludlow, quite reasonably priced. And I just recently ordered his book on writing. Hanff talks about reading one of his books--possible that one--and getting stuck very early because he assumed his readers had read Milton. So she went off to read Milton, only to discover that he assumed his readers were familiar with Biblical books such as Isaiah and Ezekiel. Computer types will understand when I say that Hanff found herself pushing more and more onto the stack.

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/04/2008]

The BBC recently broadcast a radio adaptation (by James Roose- Evans) of Helene Hanff's 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD. In one way it was more "authentic" than the film version, because it was almost entirely done as letters. (There were one or two lines of dialogue between people in the shop, and a few lines from Helene's doorman delivering book parcels.) But it also added a lot to the letters themselves that just was not in the original. Given that the original book was short, as books go, it is very unlikely that much was cut out of the letters for publication. And what was new here was nothing scandalous or even particularly private. For example, at one point Nora writes that everything is off rationing, so Helene needn't send any more food parcels. And there are long passages about Walton's "Lives" and "The Compleat Angler", as well as other books not mentioned in the original. Since Roose-Evans wrote the original stage play "based on Hanff's memoirs" (according to one site) and I believe also on conversations with her, I am assuming that the additional material, while not absolutely accurate to the letters, is in keeping with what Hanff and Doel might have written. (And it is quite possible that some letters were misplaced even before the book.)

[See also my article comparing the book and the film of 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD.]

To order 84 Charing Cross Road from, click here.
To order The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street from, click here.
To order Q's Legacy from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/19/2004]

Helene Hanff is best known for 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD. People may also have heard of her books THE DUCHESS OF BLOOMSBURY STREET and Q'S LEGACY, but she also wrote a few others, including APPLE OF MY EYE (a guidebook to New York) and LETTER FROM NEW YORK (ISBN 0-060-97543-1), which is a collection of short radio pieces that she recorded for the BBC. (The title is obviously patterned on Alistair Cooke's long-running "Letter from America".) They make a nostalgic portrait of New York of the 1970s; New York has changed a lot since then. It's not up to her better-known books, though.

To order Letter from New York from, click here.


[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/09/2004]

Another book by Helene Hanff (and her first) is UNDERFOOT IN SHOW BUSINESS, an autobiography of her life as a playwright and TV writer up until 1961. (For readers of 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD, the only familiar part will be her tooth work.) While a fairly lightweight book, it does have some amusing anecdotes, such as the one about the winners of the fellowships from the Bureau of New Plays the year she won--and those of the previous year. Or the one which truly illustrates the claim from SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE that in the theater everything works out, but no one knows how ("It's a miracle."). But one I will recount here from her experiences as an outside reader for a film studio. A reader is someone who is given a book and is supposed to summarize it for the benefit of those who needed to decide whether to option it. The dread of a reader was to be given "a seven-hundred-page, three-generation family saga that always had more subplots than a soap opera and more characters than Dickens." Well, as she writes, "On the blackest Friday I ever want to see, I was summoned to Monograph and handed three outsized paperback volumes of an English book which was about to be published here. I was to read all three volumes over the weekend, and since each volume was double the length of the usual novel I was invited to charge double money for each. I hurried home with the three volumes and after dinner began to read Volume I. And if Monograph's office had been open at that hour, I'd have phoned and quit my job. What I had to read, during that nightmare weekend--taking notes on all place names, characters' names and events therein--was fifteen hundred stupefying pages of the sticky mythology of J. R. R. Tolkien. (I hope I'm spelling his name wrong.) I remember opening one volume to a first line which read, 'Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his elevnty-first birthday....' and phoning several friends to say good-bye because suicide seemed so obviously preferable to five hundred more pages of that." I guess she concluded that you couldn't make a very good movie from THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

To order Underfoot in Show Business from, click here.

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