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To the Kathleen Kellys and Helene Hanffs

December 21, 2008

We’ve been snowed in like little rabbits in a hole over the past few days, which has resulted in lots of time for leisure (enjoyable yet still tinged ever so slightly with that “Why aren’t I being more productive?” American guilt). And as women of leisure, we have indulged in movies, movies and more movies…with a side of freshly baked gingerbread scones (they’re divine…try the recipe).

This leads me to wonder, after several months of having Netflix, whether or not this bottomless influx of film isn’t becoming a bit of an Achille’s heel for me. While I love being able to track down basically any movie I can think of, I have found myself watching more movies than I believe I ever have in my life. I am at a loss as to whether this is a positive or negative thing. I feel I have been neglecting my books lately — I’ve finally managed to finish off a few that I’ve been working on for a few weeks now, yet as my (neatly arranged)  mountain of unread books glares at me, hurt and neglected from my shelves, I feel I must shield myself with my laptop from the poisoned stare as I re-watch “84 Charing Cross Road” yet again.

That movie however, is one that I just cannot feel guilty about watching time and time again. I came across it entirely by accident and it was like stumbling across a dear friend that I had quite forgotten about. Based on a book, “84 Charing Cross Road” draws you into the correspondence of Helene Hampff, a spunky writer from New York City (played beautifully by Anne Bancroft), with a man called Frank Doel, who works at a bookshop in London. It begins with Helene’s search for out-of-print books and blossoms into the most beautiful friendship. (Watch it. It’s so wonderful.)

It hints at a deeply held obsession for us bibliophiles, who know well that seductive and heady aroma of secondhand bookshops. You Barnes and Nobles and Borders can keep your freshly cut paper, smartly designed covers and Starbucks gleam — give me the musty, hardwood smell and frayed edges anyday. I inhale and I can feel it all the way into my fingertips, as I gently touch the spines of each book, flip through their pages and try to imagine each chapter in their endless circle of lives. I crave margin notes and flyleaf inscriptions and am sorely disappointed when the book I buy is blank of personal touches. Did the previous owner not love you, I ask the book. Here, come home and live with me. I’ll put some life back into you, I promise.

It ties closely in with one of my (other) all-time favorite movies, one that I watch more than any other, that coincidentally enough, is also the chronicle of a correspondence (though not quite as sweet and old-timey as written letters).

“You’ve Got Mail.”

People always seem surprised when I tell them it’s probably my favorite movie. There is some kind of quiet and sweet magic about it that catches hold and never lets go, if you’re lucky. My best friends are likewise in love and whenever life pulls out the rug from under us, it’s “You’ve Got Mail” and eating giant sandwiches. When we all lived together in college, we even got a houseplant and named it Kathleen Kelly. Well, poor Kathleen, thanks to our extremely eager desire to be excellent caretakers, didn’t do so well — we all watered her way too much and she died within weeks. Regardless, we loved her anyway.

I feel such an impulsive kinship to Kathleen Kelly (immaculately done by Meg Ryan) in her innocence and wholesome positivity — if we were to run into each other at a coffee shop or flower stall, I wholly believe we could strike up a conversation and within minutes, be swapping book recommedations and laughing about how we both have always adored Gilbert Blythe.

While my Netflix addiction may need to be dialed back a few notches, there are certain movies that simply remind me of who I am and that I am not alone. That there are other people who get giddy at the sight of used book sales, who misplace their glasses on a regular basis, who drink more tea than the whole of the United Kingdom combined and who find nothing quite so heart-catching as a full bookshelf (always more bookshelves, never less books).

I will leave you with this — some thoughts on books by other writers (because after all, one can never be a great writer without first and foremost, being a dedicated reader).

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” – CS Lewis

“If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads.” – Francois Mauriac

“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, not small, but valuable. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around?” – Kathleen Kelly, “You’ve Got Mail”

Happy reading, dear friends.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2008 11:44 am

    I’ve never seen “84 Charing Cross Road,” but now I’ll have to. Thanks for the recommendation. Have you ever seen the documentary “The Stone Reader”? You MUST! It’s about people who love, live, and breathe books. “Finding Forrester” is good too, although it’s more about writing than reading.

    I also love “You’ve Got Mail,” and have often thought what a wonderful thing it would be to work in a little bookstore like that. That’s my ideal part time job when I reach the point of semi-retirement.

    I love the Mauriac quote. I can’t understand people who don’t see a reason to reread a good book. I want to ask them, “Do you see a reason to visit a good friend again?” What’s the difference?

    I spent a few hours this weekend putting together a new (bigger) book shelf–desperately needed. It now has 1.8 empty shelves begging me to be filled!

  2. Caroline permalink*
    December 22, 2008 11:48 am

    I will Netflix both “The Stone Reader” and “Finding Forrester.” I love a good book movie, as you can easily see.

    I would work in a bookshop in a second — and would love to own one someday. We’ll see. 🙂

    Enjoy your new (empty) bookshelf and have a beautiful time filling its shelves with old and new friends alike!

  3. December 22, 2008 5:57 pm

    A second read of your post shows me you have a photograph of the actual bookstore–very impressive! (84 Charing Cross Road, that is) Have you also read the book?

  4. Caroline permalink*
    December 22, 2008 9:09 pm

    All I did was Google “84 Charing Cross Road.” I’m not that crafty.

    I have the book on hold at the library, so as soon as it comes in, I will be reading it.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    December 24, 2008 6:09 pm

    I forgot about the plant named Kathleen Kelly.

    I vaguely remember it perishing, but it is so distant now.

    You remember Francis of course. My gnome with the broken foot that was severly addicted to Captain Morgan’s and Bob Dylan’s infectious voice.

  6. Caroline permalink*
    December 25, 2008 8:15 am

    Oh I remember Francis.
    Robert made him a cast out of masking tape and Bob Dylan signed it…as did, I believe, several members of the cast of “Gilmore Girls.”

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