Tag Archives: quotations

repost: review of 84, Charing Cross Road

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Title: 84, Charing Cross Road

Author: Helene Hanff

Series: She wrote a follow-up book called “The Duchess of Boomsbury Street.”

Pub: 1970

Randomly interesting thing: Helene Hanff wrote many scripts for “Ellery Queen” on television.

Summary: The book contains Helene’s correspondance with the booksellers of Marks & Co (especially Frank Doel) between 1949 and 1969. 

Oh, but it’s so much more than that, isn’t it?!  I’m not going to do a sensible review here because I just can’t.  Instead, I’m simply going to tell you how much I love this book.  My only complaint is that there are letters left out, and I want more!  I reread it once a year or so, and I really wish I could own a copy of this book as beautifully-bound as some of the tomes she describes.  Instead, I make do with a rubbish-looking Book Club edition from the library– but the words it holds, oh my. 

84, Charing Cross Road contains so many of my passions: really beautifully bound books, good literature, well-written letters (a dead art, really), and England.  As Helene and Frank become friends, their letters become more about their lives and their families, which gives us a lovely glimpse back in time.  I don’t know about you, but 1949 might as well be a different world for me.  When Helene first begins writing, looking to buy a few out-of-print books, England is still under severe rationing (can you imagine?), and the dollar to the pound exchange rate must have been something truly spectacular– at one point, she is offered a 100-year-0ld first edition for $6!  Frank’s England is also one of tiny, dusty bookshops with tall shelves and twisting ladders where beautiful, classical books wait to be discovered .  How gorgeous!

the Marks & Co shop at 84, Charing Cross Road-- sadly, they have long been out of business.  the Marks & Co shop at 84, Charing Cross Road– sadly, they have long been out of business.

 

Yes, there is a movie.  No, it’s not as good (despite having Judi Dench, Anne Bancroft, and Anthony Hopkins in it); how could it be?  The whole point of the book is their letters, which can’t be replicated in film-form.  There were also, according to wiki, radio plays.  These I have not heard.

Here, for just a taste, is one of my favorite letters from Helene to Frank:

sunday night and a hell of a way to start 1960

i don’t know, frankie–

Somebody gave me this book for Christmas.  It’s a Giant Modern Library book.  Did you ever see one of those?  It’s less attractively bound than the Proceedings of the New York State Assembly and it weighs more.  It was given to me by a gent who knows I’m fond of John Donne.  The title of this book is:

The Complete Poetry

&

Selected Prose

of

JOHN DONNE

&

The Complete Poetry

of

WILLIAM BLAKE?

The question mark is mine.  Will you please tell me what those two boys have in common?– except that they were both English and they both Wrote?  I tried reading the Introduction figuring that might explain it.  The Introduction is in four parts.  Parts I and II include a Professor’s life of Donne mit-illustrations-from-the-author’s-works-also-criticism.  Part III begins– and God knows I quote–:

     When as a little boy, William Blake saw the prophet Ezekiel under a tree amid a summer field, he was soundly trounced by his mother.

I’m with his mother.  I mean, the back of the Lord God or the face of the Virgin Mary, all right– but why the hell would anybody want to see the prophet Ezekiel?

I don’t like Blake anyway, he swoons too much, it’s Donne I’m writing about, I’m being driven clear up the wall, Frankie, you have GOT to help me.

Here I was, curled up in my armchair so at peace with the world, with something old and serene on the radio– Corelli or somebody– and this thing on the table.  This Giant Modern Library thing.  So I thought:

     “I will read the three standard passages from Sermon XV aloud,”  You have to read Donne aloud, it’s like a Bach fugue. 

Would you like to know what I went through in an innocent attempt to read three contiguous uncut passages from Sermon XV aloud?

You start with the Giant Modern Library version, you locate Sermon XV and there they are: Excerpts I, II, and III,– only when you get to the end of Excerpt I you discover they have deleted Jezebel off it.  So you get down Donne’s Sermons, Selected Passages (Logan Pearsall Smith) where you spend twenty minutes locating Sermons XV, Excerpt I, because by Logan Pearsall Smith it isn’t Sermon XV, Excerpt I, it’s Passage 126. All Must Die.  Now that you’ve found it, you find he also deleted Jezebel so you get down the Complete Poetry & Selected Prose (Nonesuch Press) but they didn’t happen to select Jezebel either, so you get down the Oxford Book of English Prose where you spend another twenty minutes locating it because in the Oxford English Prose it isn’t Sermon XV, Excerpt I nor yet 126. All Must Die, it’s Passage 113. Death the Leveller.  Jezebel is there, and you read it aloud but when you get to the end you find it doesn’t have either Excerpt II or III so you have to switch to one of the other three books provided you had the wit to leave all three open at the right pages which I didn’t.

So, break it to me gently: how hard is it going to be to find me John Donne’s Complete Sermons and how much is it going to cost?

i am going to bed.  i will have hideous nightmares involving huge monsters in academic robes carrying long bloody butcher knives labelled Excerpt, Selection, Passage and Abridged,

      yrs,

h.ffffffffffffff

Do you see why this is a brilliant book and why you need to own it immediately?  Go.  Go straight to your independent bookstore (or B & N if you must) and buy it now.  You may thank me later.  After you have read it, come back and tell me your favorite bits.

p.s.  and have a box of tissues ready for the end, all right?

a beginner’s guide to Douglas Adams

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 Monty Python, Eddie Izzard, Bill Cosby, Mel Brooks, Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who …

You know that favorite thing you have– the one that you are zealously delighted to introduce to everyone around you?  That one that you can’t remember not loving?  That one that you quote from pretty constantly and crack in-jokes about with the two other people you know who are as nutty about it as you are?

For me, that thing is Douglas Adams, and I know I’m not alone. 

In fact, at this very moment, you may be sitting next to an Adams-addict.  One might be your teacher [Hi, kids.  See you all on the 24th]. One might live upstairs.   One might be your boss.  You are surrounded by Adams-addicts everyday.  How can you tell, you ask?  Do you need a magic decoder ring?  Is there a litmus test?  Do we all wear tee-shirts?

I want this.  I want this shirt.

 Here’s the test; are you ready?  Turn to any person you happen to meet, and simply ask him or her, “What is the meaning of life?”  If the answer comes back, “Forty-two,” then you, my friend, have found yourself an Adams-addict.

So he’s got a lot of fans.  Big deal– so does professional wrestling , and that’s just dumb [sorry, Jerry 😉 ] 

Well, do you remember when you first read Shakespeare and Greek mythology in high school, and then you started to see quotations and references to them everywhere?  Then you figured out that they had been there all along, but you’d never noticed, because you just didn’t know?  Adams is like that.   In fact, in science-fiction writing, there is such a thing as the “obligatory Hitchhiker’s reference.”  It appears in nearly every work of sci-fi written post-1980.  Go ahead– Google the phrase– you’ll see.

Why do we all love Douglas Adams so much?  Because the man looked at the world in an incredibly unique, intelligent, positive, and humorous way.  Then, he wrote it down. 

I could go on at length about his technique, perspective, and utterly original spirit, but I think that would spoil it for you.  Part of what draws Adams-addicts in is discovering for ourselves something new and precious every time we read his books, listen to his radio shows, watch his films, play his video games, use his towels [yes, you read that correctly– towels].

I’ll tell you how I got into Adams, but we have to go back a bit:  My father was in the Air Force in the mid-seventies, and he was stationed in England.  My mom, after their wedding, went to live with him.  Now, she didn’t have a car, didn’t know anyone, and had a husband who worked 24 hour shifts– so she spent a good deal of time listening to the radio and watching television.  She saw and enjoyed Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s on tv.  Flash forward to about 1992 or so.  We were all living in South Florida.  My sister and I were hooked on Sci-Fi Saturday Nights on our local PBS station [WXEL].  Hitchhiker’s came on.  My mom said, “Oh, I remember this.  It was funny.  Let’s watch it.” 

I distinctly remember sitting on the cool tile floor and leaning against the couch, as the three of us watched the mini-series.  Yes, it was super cheesy in many places, but gosh, it was brilliant!  Then, my sister and I discovered the books, then his other novels… and in college, I began reading his non-fiction.  “Last Chance to See” is a wonderfully powerful book.  I found copies of his radio play scripts, watched his Doctor Who episodes, read his obituary with a deep sense of loss, and now I love “The Salmon of Doubt,” a collection of all sorts of writing that his friends rescued from his hard drive.  I have a particular fondness for the audiobook, to which many of his closest friends contributed.Ask any Adams-addict, and he or she will have a similarly personal story about discovering the brilliance that is Douglas Adams.

So, I will leave you with just a few examples of why I love Adams:

“The ships hung in the air in much the same way that bricks don’t.” 

“Scarcely pausing for breath, Vroomfondel shouted, ‘We don’t demand solid facts!  What we demand is a total absence of solid facts.  I demand that I may or may not be Vroomfondel!'”

 

“‘And I am Dr. Desiato’s bodyguard,’ it went, ‘and I am responsible for his body, and I am not responsible for yours, so take it away before it gets damaged.'”

“One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of acidentally becoming your own father or mother.  There is no problem involved in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can’t cope with.  There is no problem about changing the course of history– the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw.  All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end.  The major problem is quite simply one of grammar…”

 

“In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn’t cope with, and that terrible listlessness that starts to set in about 2:55, when you know you’ve taken all the baths you can usefully take that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the newspaper you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.”

“‘My name,’ said the mattress, ‘is Zem.  We could discuss the weather a little.’  Marvin paused again in his weary circular plod.  ‘The dew,’ he observed, ‘has clearly fallen with a particularly sickening thud this morning.'”

 

Are you intrigued?  Good.  Go down to your library and pick up your copy today.  Then come back and leave your favorite quotation in the comments!  Till then, my hoopy froods, Don’t Panic!

tea with Douglas

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 A nice cozy chat about Douglas Adams is long overdue, my dears.  It is coming tomorrow, but until then, brew yourself a nice cup of tea (if you don’t know how to do it properly, see Douglas’s words on the matter.) and then nibble on these tasty treats from “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.”

“Professor Urban Chronotis, the Regius Professor of Chronology, or ‘Reg’ as he insisted on being called, had a memory that he himself had once been compared to the Queen Alexandria Butterfly, in that it was colorful, flitted prettily hither and thither, and was now, alas, almost completely extinct.” (11)

“Sunlight played along the River Cam.  People in punts happily shouted at each other to fuck off.  Thin natural scientists who had spent months locked away in their rooms growing white and fishlike, emerged blinking into the light.  Couples walking along the bank got so excited about the general wonderfulness of it all that they had to pop inside for an hour.” (13)

 “Michael ususally referred to his mother as an old battle-ax, but if she was fairly to be compared to a battle-ax it could only be to an exquisitely crafted, beautifully balanced battle-ax, with an elegant minimum of fine engraving which stopped just short of its gleaming razored edge.  One swipe from such an instrument and you wouldn’t even know you’d been hit until you tried to look at your watch a bit later and discovered that your arm wasn’t on.” (98)

  

Lovely, were they not?  But we don’t want to over-indulge.  More tomorrow.

 

P.G. Wodehouse Insult Generator

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Thanks to a commenter from half-way around the world, ya’ll have this beauty of a widget to enjoy. 
Indulge your love of all things Wodehousian, courtesy of Osama Lali.  Thanks, dude!

[clearspring_widget title=”P.G. Wodehouse Insult Generator” wid=”490eebb11b871e9a” pid=”4a839c34d0f37f87″ width=”250″ height=”300″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

Holmes and the Hound, part 1

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“The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1939) 

80 minutes; black & white

Starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce 

As promised, here are my comments on this film.  I’ll be presenting them in two parts.

I’ve owned a set of the “New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” radio dramas (1939-46) since high school, so I am very familiar with Rathbone & Bruce’s voices and their acting styles.  In 46, Rathbone bowed out, and Bruce then continued the series for a bit with Tom Conway as Holmes.  I’m considerably less familiar with their film work, though I have seen a few movies.  “The Hound of the Baskervilles” was Rathbone & Bruce’s first movie together, and its popularity inspired all of the later films, as well as the radio series.  So, this is an important film in the Holmesian canon.

 I’m working with a foggy memory as regards the plot of this story, as it has been donkey’s years since I read Conan Doyle’s novel, not since my ill-fated attempt to teach it to seventh graders.  Yeah, it didn’t go well, but never mind.  It wasn’t the book’s fault. And… we’re moving on…

The preceding paragraph will probably be the last truly coherent one in this post.  I could write a sophisticated and erudite analysis of this film’s cinematography and its pivotal role in our modern collective consciousness’s image of Sherlock Holmes, but what fun would that be?

 

Instead, what follows are my scribbled thoughts as I made my way through the film.

 

–    As they run the credits, I am reminded that a new Holmes movie is on its way to our theaters.  I’m tentatively anticipating it. 

–    Who is this David Stewart Davies on the optional commentary?  What has he done to make him qualified to comment on this?  The booklet doesn’t say.

–    Bizarre fact: the *stars* of the film are credited 2nd & 4th.

–    I  ♥ Big Ben & foggy Baker Street.

–    Interesting how much these 1930’s movies expected their audience to read.  Not just “oh, look, something is written in the newspaper” but then leaving said paper up on the screen long enough for everyone to read the entire article.  A hold over from silent films, perhaps, or just indicative of their expectations of an intelligent, literate, participatory audience?

–    After hearing so many of the radio adventures, ‘tis strange to SEE the actors speaking with those familiar voices.

–    The bit with Watson’s deductions from the walking stick—I don’t know if I approve of his giving Watson a chance, or if I am annoyed that Holmes so gleefully knocks down his friend’s efforts.

teeth marks

–    Ah, now we know what Doctor Mortimer’s wife didn’t want him telling the coroner, but why was she so interested in keeping it a secret?

–    Ok—this just annoys me.  This “flashback/ reading the legend” scene is presented as the wacky hijinks of drunken frat-boys, complete with “sitcom-esque” music in the background.  Um…hello, Director:  this scene describes the kidnapping, rape, and murder of an under-aged girl by a sadistic aristocrat.  It lays the groundwork for why this sinister, supernatural Hound torments and murders the Baskerville family down the ages.  What WERE you thinking?

–    When compared to the previous sheaf of papers, Mortimer’s “few pages” seem to have expanded to a novella.

–    If I were Holmes, at this point, I would have yanked the pages from Mortimer by now and skimmed them myself.

–    I wonder if Rathbone was actually playing the violin here?  If so… yum!

   {wait for it.  song starts around 1:45}

–    Right off, we establish Sir Henry as handsome, generous, and polite to girls in glasses.  [see Dorothy Parker]

–    Point of order:  how will they know where to send Sir Henry’s luggage?

–    It can’t be easy to throw a stone through the side window of a moving vehicle.

–    More reading for the audience.  I’m going to stop mentioning it, and simply put a count total at the bottom of this post.  Let’s see if your count matches mine.

–    Here’s where I like Watson.  I was wondering that about the boots myself, and he asked it.

–    How much do I love male Victorian garb!  Gentlemen—you should really all wear more of this.

–    Nice bit of tension-building with the pistol, but it got me thinking {too much NCIS, clearly} how good is the sniper’s aim?  How far is the range of that dinky pistol?

–    Realism of the costumes extends to the chambermaid—no modern brassiere for her.  Couldn’t pull off that kind of accuracy nowadays.

–    What’s going on outside the window as Holmes interviews the cabbie?  A thunderstorm?

–    Sir Henry’s “Canadian” accent seems sketchy here.

–    Lovely atmospheric work on the matte paintings & studio-bound Stonehenge.

–    “If I believed all of the legends about this place, I wouldn’t live here.  I wouldn’t have the courage.”

–    Beautifully detailed paintings of Baskerville Hall.

–    I’m going to assume that the casting of Spartan-looking woman= servant who is up to no good.

–    Love Watson’s pen.  Want one.

–    Great moment with the door handle.

–    Watson and Sir Henry make a good, if bumbling, team.  Watson gets to do a bit of thinking for a change.

–    How far away WAS that light?

–    Gee, let’s hide in plain sight.  I’m sure the villain will return and ignore us completely.

–    Look out, Watson!

–    He’s right, you know.  Holmes would not want clodhopping policemen trouncing all over his investigation.

–    Sounds like a wolf to me.

–    Watson is a bit over-the-top here with Stapleton.  Why are they both so shocked to hear a woman’s voice?  Stapleton knows his sister was right behind him.

–    Was there any chance that Sir Henry WOULDN’T hear her calling him?  They were only about 4 feet apart, and she was shouting quite loudly.

–    No, no, you will not be a love interest at all.

–    Clearly, we are at the monthly dinner meeting of chops and ‘staches.

–    Poor wife looks really frightened of séance.  Why?

–    I like Franklin.  He’s spunky!

–    She does not look like the fisherman-type to me.

–    Nice how the conversation indicates that time has passed.

–    Aww.  Sweet—but awkward embrace there, and distinctly chaste.

–    Way to be prejudiced against the old peddler, everyone in this scene!  Bad!

being mean to beggar

–    Clever observation there, Watson; but you have not redeemed yourself.

–    Nice that his drawing room provides a convenient view of the exact place on all of the entire Moor where Sir Henry happens to be wandering.

–    That’s one long-burning match!

–    “What blasted impertinence!”

–    Ah—he gets you with that old chestnut every time, Watson, my lad.

–    Ok—why is Watson all shocked about “murder.”—isn’t that why ya’ll are out here on the Moor in the first place?  Have you not been paying attention?

 

So, as Watson & the newly-revealed Holmes head back to Baskerville Hall, we’ll call it a night.  More to come soon.

 

 

*** Starting from the beginning, I have so far counted 6 instances of the audience being expected to read from the screen.  Did I miss any?

the 2nd flight of Aeolus

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Back again, bouyed by breezy comments from Aeolus’s margins, we fly.  If you missed the previous flight, catch it here.  This may be a bumpy ride, so please stow your luggage securely and put your trays in the upright positions.

 

“Practice dwindling.  A mighthavebeen.  Losing heart.”– such a sad fellow.

“Weathercocks.  Hot and cold in the same breath.”– are they Mary Poppins then?

“Is he taking anything for it?”– a good question.

“shite and onions”– such a disgusting phrase!  What did onions ever do to you?

onions are lovely.  leave them alone.

onions are lovely. leave them alone.

“Get a grip of them by the stomach.”– I agree.  good advice.  hopefully not using the shite and onions, though.  eww.

“The editor’s blue eyes roved towards Mr Bloom’s face, shadowed by a smile.”– Why, what does Secret Squirrel here know?

Is this really a picture of the Editor and Leopold Bloom?

Is this really a picture of the Editor and Leopold Bloom?

“My Ohio.”– ooooooo ooo hio– where North Cork won every time [sung to tune of “Oklahoma”]

“He took a reel of dental floss…”– ok, nice to see him flossing, but such poor manners!

“Who wants a dead cert for the God cup? he asked”– how are the odds on the choirboys handicap?  Bertie Wooster wants to place a bet with Pongo.

“There’s a hurricane blowing.”– listen, bub.  You don’t know nothin’  ’bout no hurricanes.

“We are the boys of Wexford…”– I’d rather have David from “Newsies” singing here: “Open the gates and seize the day…”

give me David anyday over random Ulysses urchins

give me David anyday over random Ulysses urchins

“He’ll get that advertisement”– why is Leo so motivated here?  does he work on commission?

“Lenehan promptly struck a match for them and lit their cigarettes in turn.”– according to Hanff, the English would light cigs only off of other peoples.  they would never ask for a match.

“Thanky vous”– well, aren’t we just too Gallic for words!

“Silence for my brandnew riddle”– booooogus!

“We mustn’t be led away by words, by sounds of words.”– Pah-lease!  That is all that J.J. does!

“The Roman, like the Englishman who follows in his footsteps, brought to every new shore on which he set his food… only his cloacal obsession”– Do you have a flag?

“First my riddle, Lenehan said.  Are you ready?”– Poor guy can’t get a word in edgewise.

“Youth led by Experience visits Notoriety”– sounds like a naughty poem by Blake.

“Lenehan said to all:”– Why is a raven like a writing desk?

“He comes, pale vampire”– is he sparkly?

“The bloodiest old tartar God ever made.”– Ah, She Who Must Be Obeyed.

“O’Rourke, prince of Breffni”– yes, yes, we’ve had all of this already.  get on with it!

“We were always loyal to lost causes.”– ah, like Evan Tanner.

“But the Greek!”– For all our faults, we loooove our Greeks.  [sung to a tune from Pirates of Penzance]

“Pyrrhus”– without Thisbe?

“LENEHAN’S LIMERICK”– I like Carl Kasell’s better.

“Myles Crawford crammed the sheets into a sidepocket.”– Those Blasted Sheets and Tissues!

“The Rose of Castille”– groan.  awful.  though, better than Stevie’s from earlier.

“YOU CAN DO IT!”– why does this remind me of those Python letters to the editor?

 

And I shall leave you, dears, with one of my favorite bits of flying humor.  Enjoy.

the nonsense is blowing in the wind

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 Why, hello.  Did you do your homework?  Have you listened to or read Aeolus? 

Good, good.

So, let’s review: Aeolus is the section of Ulysses that is roughly set as a newspaper, complete with bold titles and (mostly) uninterested reporting of events. 

this chapter is full of wind bags.

this chapter is full of wind bags.

The wind bags in this section have blown in these random bits of marginalia.

“The hoarse Dublin United Tramway Company’s timekeeper bawled them off”– Reminds me of Cosby’s subway routine called “Incoherency.”

Is the porter a Sontarian in disguise?

is the porter a Sontarian in disguise?

“All his brains are in the nape of his neck, Simon Dedalus says.  Welts of flesh behind him.”– Is that a probic vent I see? 

 “But will he save the circulation?”– He needs Jack, David and the Newsies (Let’s be honest– every one needs Newsies!)

“HOW A GREAT DAILY ORGAN IS TURNED OUT”– ok, that’s dirty.  Even for you, J.J!

“Monkeydoodle the whole thing.”– another excellent phrase that I wish to incorporate into my everyday vocabulary.

“his spellingbee conundrum…”– a cute puzzle.  He should send it to Click & Clack for the Car Talk puzzler.

“Time to get out.”– he knows a lambasting is coming.

“ONLY ONCE MORE THAT SOAP”– I’d forgotten about the soap.

“Wouldn’t it give you heartburn on your arse?”– Um… no?

“The pensive bosom and the overarsing leafage…”– I have to agree with them here; this is ridiculous doggeral.

“The right honorable Hedges Eyre Chatterton”– is he involved in the Eyre Affair?

“SHORT BUT TO THE POINT”– but what was the point?

“The doorknob hit Mr Bloom in the small of the back as the door was pushed in.”– Ouch!

not recommended by your chiropractor

not recommended by your chiropractor

I’ll leave you today with that painful memory.  Tomorrow– more hot air.