Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road

TITLE: 84, Charing Cross Road
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Helene Hanff
FORMAT: Paperback
COPYRIGHT: 1970
THIS EDITION: 1990

Another find on the library date, 84, Charing Cross Road, is nothing but a series of letters that follow an aloof writer/reader and a bookstore from 1949 to 1969.

Basically, these start with her writing from NYC to London, a request with a little bookstore to find a book she’s craving because she saw their ad in a magazine and their “antiquarian” expertise is something she equates with money.

What follows is quite charming – a $5/book cap on prices, which inflates to about $50 today, that seems quaint even though it wasn’t, a friendship that includes powdered and fresh eggs and nylons when they couldn’t get them because of post-war rationing, and a friendship that continued in letters for decades, ending only in her main friend/contact’s death.

I love that the letters were all kept to the point that this book could happen.  We don’t have this kind of society anymore.  We don’t have quaint bookshops that will operate under the honor system and mail a book across the ocean and send a bill.  We have e-Commerce sites and anonymous people and warehouses and not shoppes.  Credit cards and anonymity.

This book made my heart sing and it made me happy for a time that I wish I could have been a part of.

Life today is easier, but it isn’t better.

I’m giving this a 5 out of 5.  Beautiful in its simplicity.  (Also, they’ve made it into a movie, if you’re so inclined.)

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Book Review–The Midwife: A Memoir Of Birth, Joy & Hard Times

Title: The Midwife: A Memoir Of Birth, Joy & Hard Times
Author: 
Jennifer Worth
Format: 
Electronic / Kindle 
Written:  2009

Published:  2009

This memoir may seem like an odd choice for a book review on Easter Sunday.  I was looking through the books I’ve  read recently and trying to decide which one should receive the treatment this week.   I considered the many fictionalised accounts of the Life of Christ I’d read over the years.  I considered some of the books focusing on the Spring fertility rites of non-Christian religions.  I considered a couple of books dealing with Passover.   So how, exactly, did I end up with this title?

Much like Margaret Powell’s Below Stairs (reviewed by me here), this is a memoir that gave birth to a popular British television drama–in this case BBC1’s hit Call The Midwife.   I binge-watched Series 1 on Neflix Instant and found myself craving more.  I wanted to read the stories behind the stories and so I downloaded this first in a trilogy to my trusty Kindle.

The book is Jennifer Worth’s recounting of her time as a nurse-midwife attached to, but not a practicing  member of, a convent of Anglican Nuns in 1950s East London.   Babies are born, not born, made and unmade in these pages and the stories of those births are captivating in their own right.  But Worth takes the book a step further and introduces the reader to the poorest of the poor huddled in the capital city of one of the wealthiest empires in history.    We come to know the byways of the impoverished East End.  We find our way bicycling past bomb sites that are piles of rubble a decade after the blitz and  now home to addicts and prostitutes.  We meet the living dead refugees from the cruel and inhumane workhouses who are left to fight to live their remaining years amidst the squalor of condemned buildings.

Through all of this we see the nuns responding with grace and the hearts of servants.  Each Sister has her own personality uniquely suited to the challenges of midwifery among the poor.

So that’s why I chose this book for Easter.  It’s as good a picture of the purpose of Easter as I can think, watching how the nuns of Nonnatus House and the nurse-midwives they train respond to the stuff of life.    It is grace in action.  It is new life–the story of springtime and Eostre.  It is a living picture of the Hearth Goddesses.  It is an example of death passing over a people.

In other words, it’s the  perfect book for anyone to read in celebration of this season.

I’m giving it a 5.

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