Daily Archives: April 30, 2011

Book #8

Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff

Here is the remarkable story of how Helene Hanff came to write 84, Charing Cross Road, and of all the things its success has brought her. Hanff recalls her serendipitous discovery of a volume of lectures by a Cambridge don, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. She devoured Q’s book, and, wanting to read all the books he recommended, began to order them from a small store in London, at 84, Charing Cross Road. Thus began a correspondence that became an enormously popular book, play, and television production, and that finally led to the trip to England – and a visit to Q’s study – that she recounts here. In this exuberant memoir, Hanff pays her dept to her mentor and shares her joyous adventures with her many fans. (via Goodreads)

Of all of Helene Hanff’s books, I’ve probably reread Q’s Legacy the least. 84 Charing Cross Road is, of course, her touchstone work. Underfoot in Show Business is the “young writer” book. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is her England book, and Apple of My Eye is her New York book. And Q’s Legacy? I misremembered it as being about Hanff’s early life, which is well covered in Underfoot. It isn’t. Instead, it’s about what happened *after*.

Hanff writes:

What fortune teller would have had the nerve to predict that the best years of my life would turn out to be my old age?

As a part of my failed Blogging from A to Z attempt, I posted about how important Helene Hanff has been to me. I’ve always loved the fact her fame didn’t come about as she intended, and she always seems befuddled by that. Since Q’s Legancy is about this sideways fame, you’d think it would be my favorite book of hers! But there’s a bittersweet tinge to Q’s that was maybe a little too bitter for an optimistic 22 year-old writer. (Fine. Optimistic is a strong word to be used in relation to me. Let’s say: Glass was only 45% empty.)

At 36, I’m nowhere near old age, though my joints might claim otherwise. I have more years of writing ahead of me than behind me, but I have a different appreciation for Q’s Legacy. Helene looks back and asks, “What do [I] have to show for it?” and I’m closer to knowing what she means. I suppose that’s the interesting thing about rereading books. Sometimes, they work better for you the second (or third…) time.