Some books, you read more than once. In this case, I’m going to tell you about three of those.
You’ve probably read Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road. (If you haven’t, do.) But you might not have read her other books. I have, and they’re all worth multiple reads. I’m highlighting two here (and a third book by another author).
Q’s Legacy is Hanff’s account of how she became and stayed a writer. While 84 and its sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, are delightful accounts of unexpected success, Q’s Legacy shows how hard–and how limited–that success was. Hanff’s love of writing (and independence) comes through clearly, but so does the struggle and uncertainty involved in being a freelance writer.
Next, Apple of My Eye is her love letter to New York. It’s an account of Hanff’s background work on copy to accompany a book of photos of Manhattan, and it’s an engaging story of a tourist in her own city in the 1970s. I wanted to join Hanff and her friend Pat (who Hanff insisted on calling Patsy) on their jaunts around the island–but I was also struck by how the book omits all of the grime, crime, and squalor that was 1970s New York. There are a few references to city finances, but otherwise the book is focused on the positive about the city. I think it would have been deepened by a little recognition of not just the splendors, but of what those splendors cost the people of New York–Lincoln Center is a wonderful center of the arts, but its construction destroyed a neighborhood and uprooted thousands from their homes, for example. Still, the book is a lot of fun.
For another look at places and writing, Christina Hardyment’s Heidi’s Alp tells the story of how Hardyment’s family of six took time off from work and school to travel continental Europe by camper van in search of classic children’s literature. Traveling with four young children (plus, on occasion, a friend and her infant) comes with its ups and downs, and Hardyment recounts both. One through line is the life and work of Hans Christian Andersen, whose books and travels Hardyment discusses at various points along their route.