One of my favorite movies is the 1986 film, 84 Charing Cross Road starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. The story is based on real events and is a simple one. Bancroft’s character is a writer who lives in New York as World War II looms on the horizon. Unable to find some rare English classics, she contacts a London bookstore and strikes up an acquaintance with the amiable proprietor, played by Hopkins. He sends her the books she requires and inserts a list of further suggestions. Delighted by his note, they strike up a pen pal relationship which takes them through the devastating war years. Despite the blitz, Hopkins’ character manages to send rare editions to his client in New York, and she manages to smuggle foodstuffs, ham and cheese and butter, to his family and his brave band of employees.
I’ll say nothing about the ending of 84 Charing Cross Road in the hope some of you may care to see it. Anyone who adores books will adore this film though it is little more than an extended correspondence between the two main characters. Still, bibliophiles will understand its charm. They know the simple pleasure of wandering through book stacks, fondling well-worn pages or rejoicing to find the virginal stiffness of a new edition. Book lovers sit among literary piles with the ease of settling among friends. No need to worry about the impression they are making. People may arrive draped in mink or stuffed into a pair of jeans, the books will accept them. All the tomes require is a little attention, in return for which readers will be swept away on a myriad of adventures.
Like most book lovers, I’m delighted technology has failed to banish bookstores to a footnote in history. The cozy corners still exist. I’ve written about a few in my neighborhood and mentioned the Paris establishment, Shakespeare and Company which piques my traveler’s lust (Blog 12/30/14) I imagine going there one day of enjoy a slice of lemon meringue pie at the pastry shop next door, cognizant that Hemingway would sometimes picnic on the grass nearby. (Blog 12/21/2015)
Recently, I’ve discovered another world-famous bookstore, London’s Hayward Hill’s shop on Curzon street. Located in a town house with chandelier sitting rooms, the establishment was the inspiration of an aristocrat a few generations ago and is still in the family. Hayward Hill doesn’t offer discounts or sales. It provides personal service, like the kind to be found at 84 Charing Cross Road. Not only will it acquire a rare book on a customer’s behalf, but, if requested, it will curate an entire library. One woman commissioned 4,000 volumes on 20th-century art for her Swiss chalet. Another ordered 300 books “that every intelligent teenager should read.” (“Little Shop of Hoarders,” by Francis Wheen, Vanity Fair, 2/2017 pg. 105.)
I can’t afford a bucket, much less a bucket list, but if I could, my list would be a short one. I’d wish to spend hours and hours browsing through the privately owned bookstores of the world that wait to be discovered. Amazon be damned.