Twelve (ish) books of Christmas Day Two: Helene Hanff

A while ago, I asked on Twitter for New York book recommendations. Stuart at Feeling Listless suggested Helene Hanff’s Apple of My Eye. I hadn’t read any Helene Hanff books before – no, not even 84, Charing Cross Road – but it sounded interesting and so I bought a copy. And oh my god, did I love it. It was written after Hanff was commissioned to write a travel guide to New York and only after accepting the commission did she realise there were great swathes of New York she’d never seen. So, along with a friend, she set out to see them. God knows what the actual guide turned out like, but this book is sweet and funny and made me long for New York even more than I usually do.

I realised it was about time I read 84, Charing Cross Road. You’ve probably read it, or at least know all about it, yes? I read it in one sitting, late one night, and finished it smiling and crying and, yes, yearning again (this time for London and, you know, the olden days…). The edition I bought (this edition) also contained The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which is the diary of Hanff’s visit to London and I loved that too.

I then read and – surprise! – loved Underfoot in Show Business and Q’s Legacy. Then I was gutted that I was all out of Hanff. I just love her voice so much: her wonder at the world, her thirst for knowledge, her love of New York and London, and her self-deprecating humour. But googling for covers today, I found there was a book I’d missed. I’ve no idea how, particularly since it’s another book about New York. So I’ve ordered Letter From New York and I’m very excited.

If you haven’t read any Helene Hanff, you should probably start with 84, Charing Cross Road. And then read everything else. Just joyful.

The Twelve Books of Christmas idea was pinched (with permission) from Carly Bennett, who today chooses her Favourite Fictional Characters of 2010.

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