Saturday, July 24, 2010

Review: Q's Legacy

You know how it is--the library says three of your books are in transit, and the one which actually arrives is one that wasn't expected at all. I've had Q's Legacy on order since I was reading The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, in furtherance of my Helene Hanff reading kick, but somebody else had it checked out and it took much longer to arrive than I was expecting.

The point of the book is, vaguely, to explain how Helene Hanff started reading all the books that led to her writing to Marks and Co., publishing 84, Charing Cross Road, and becoming famous. At 18 she had to drop out of college and she decided to embark on her own study of English literature. A perusal of the Philadelphia Public Library's shelves of English textbooks brought her to Q--Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who brought her to Milton, Izaak Walton, and a horde of other people whose books she'd never read.

I'd have liked more of the book to be about Q, her reading of him and the other books. It turned out to be much broader than that, his legacy much larger. The book covers, basically, her entire writing life up to 1985, especially trips to England after the one covered by The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, the filming of the TV adaptation of 84, and the play. One thing I liked about 84 and Duchess that I missed here was the immediacy of it. One chapter was her diary from a visit to London in 1978, and I probably liked that one the best because it was written that way. Despite this quibble, it was lovely to have another dose of Ms. Hanff, who was once again hilarious. I liked the chapter about the production of the BBC TV adaptation especially (and I'm desperate to see it, but I can't find it anywhere). I read quite a bit of it out loud to my mother. I love absurdity, and Ms. Hanff is good at picking it out. I read the whole book between getting out of bed and eating lunch (which, admittedly, was at 3:30), and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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