Friday, January 8, 2010

84 Charing Cross Road and Old Bookstores.

On a wintry Friday evening I sat down to browse my netflix (online video rental) queue. Netflix now even streams movies on to PC, one recommendation that popped up was "84 Charing Cross Road". I had seen that charming movie 6 years back. Its a movie that any bibliophile could relate to. An aging script writer, Anne Bancroft, in search of old used books comes across a book seller in London. She writes to them asking for cheap used editions of books, some out of print. Anthony Hopkins, an employee at the store, starts a correspondence. The mails talking about books is so charming. William Hazlitt's essays, Pepys diaries, Cardinal Newman's book on universities, Elizabethan poetry, John Donne's Sermons, Bible in Vulgate Latin so much much more. I checked out a few in my local library. Hazlitt sounded familiar from my high school reading, when I googled him I found that his essay "on the pleasure of Hating" is most famous (

The movie starts in post war years and just like "Holland's Opus" gives vignettes of the times, the meat rationing in post-war London, coronation of Queen, student protest in Columbia University, NY etc. The literary and human quotient are well served. The books are discussed in pretty literary fashion, Bancroft's irritation at a not so good publication of "Pepys diaries", her derision of Shelley & Keats romanticism give an edge to the movie. Seeing somebody who selects books like a wine connoisseur is pretty warming. Receiving a book she waited for long she remarks that it should be read sitting in a nice leather chair by the side of a fireplace and not sitting in cheap furniture as she has to do.

Bancroft starts sending X-mas presents to Hopkins and his team. She sends rare to get meat and food. Each employee in the store becomes dear to her, all send her correspondences, even Hopkins family becomes dear to her. She sends nylons from Saks to his family. Bancroft yearns to visit London, when she gathers enough money she suddenly has to spend it on expensive dental treatment thus disappointing Hopkins. One fine day she gets a letter that Hopkins had died and that the store itself might close. She then decides to go to London, wanting to see 'literary London'. The movie closes as she walks into a dusty empty store and saying "Frankie at last I am here". Its no epic movie but worth a watch.

Not wanting to see it on PC I checked online if my local Barnes & Noble store might have a copy.Yes they did, I hurried there and bought it. To my joy it was only $9, while it was retailing at $13 online. Came home, stretched out and watched it one go. By the way during my visit to London in 2003 I made it a point to go see Charing cross Road.

My side thoughts are related to used book stores. Right from my days at Chennai and Tanjore I loved the used book stores. In Chennai & Tanjore they were more roadside stuff. I've discovered sheer gems in them. Will Durant, Russell, Koestler, rare books of Irving Wallace (book about how he wrote 'The Prize') etc were all discovered there. In New Jersey close to my home are several used book stores. The best used to be "Micawber books" opposite Princeton University. "Micawber' was run by someone who loved books unfortunately they had to close because they could compete against online retailers like Amazon. Lambertville is a quaint town bordering NJ and Pennsylvania that had a wonderful used book store. I just love finding the hidden treasures in those stores. Raleigh, North Carolina is another treasure trove due to the Universities (Duke and Univ. of NC). The picture above is from one such haul at Lambertville, almost 7 years ago.

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