Friday, September 05, 2008


This morning I read Helene Hanff’s Q’s Legacy, which is a prequel-sequel to her best-seller 84, Charing Cross Road, and a chatty hybrid memoir which literally tumbled out of a china cupboard (where there are books, not china). It's difficult not to enjoy her first book, the popular 84, Charing Cross, which is a charming collection of letters between Hanff, a New York writer, and the employees of Marks and Co., an antiquarian London bookseller. (Amazon doesn't quite go in for this.) In Q’s Legacy, she describes the events that indirectly led to the writing of her best-seller: after weirdly failing a college scholarship exam by not knowing how to read maps (she was otherwise a stellar student), she discovered by chance the books of Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, which she used as a guide to studying literature. She also needed out-of-print books after reading Q: thus began the correspondence with Marks and Co. The Q-based literary background enabled her to win a playwriting contest, move to NY, work in the theater in many capacities, write magazine articles, and eventually meet the witty Asian editor and friend, Gene, who helped her find a publisher (Helene eventually helped Gene pass her U.S. citizenship test). Helene's friends included famous editors, actors, and fans who telephoned her at midnight. It's a very touching, funny book, vaguely reminiscent of Elaine Dundy's writing (Dundy was also a playwright).

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Interesting. You teach me about people and books I'd never have heard of.

I went over to Wikipedia to check her out :)