I can’t remember where or when I first saw the movie version of 84 Charring Cross Road with Anne Bancroft playing Helene Hanff and Anthony Hopkins as Frank Doel. What I saw of the movie, I found it after it had started, moved me. When Hanff writes about using her fruit knife to cut the pages of an uncut book, or her pleasure over the beautiful leather bound books she was receiving I understood her. If Emily Bird Starr was the first time I saw myself in a character in a novel Helene Hanff was the first time I saw myself in a character in a movie.
Sometime later, strolling through my favourite bookstore (Full Circle) I found a hardback edition of 84 Charring Cross Road and I bought that day. Over the years I’ve the book a couple of times. It’s one of those books that I get a craving for and when the craving hits I must read it.
After adding 84 Charring Cross Road to my library I found another of Hanff’s books sitting on the shelves at Full Circle, Underfoot in Show Business. It moved around with me from Oklahoma City to Dallas, back to Oklahoma City, up to St. Louis and back to Dallas before yet one last move to Oklahoma City. As I’ve written recently I’ve been repacking my books, fearful that over the years in storage they may have suffered damage. As I was repacking I found Underfoot in Show Business and I decided to keep it out a while. A couple of weeks ago I read it in one sitting. I adore Hanff’s writing.
In Underfoot in Show Business I felt as though I had a behind the scenes knowledge about her life. At various points in the book I knew her joys and sorrows surrounding her books and her letters with Doel. The time she sent stockings to the sales women that an actress friend was able to get. As she described her apartment that she decorates I could remember her beautiful table cloth sent by Doel’s wife and how Hanff felt it was too good for her table. Her disappointment that the money she was going to use for a trip to England and specifically to the bookstore instead had to be used for her teeth. It was fun to know that there was more happening in Hanff’s life than just the struggle to survive as a writer in New York City.
Something I’d like to see more of are books about people who wanted to be actors or playwrights and were unable to land a role or sell a play. To see the struggle they went through. Lauren Groff touched on this in Fates and Furies and it is ripe material for novels and stories in general. Rather than a constant stream of World War II era books I’d rather read about people struggling to make art in whatever way and when they fail in one way how they manage to hold on to the creative side in whatever form that takes.
Enjoy your reading.