Obscure theory about Helene Hanff

If you have not read Helene Hanff I ought to insist that you run out and buy the omnibus or at the very least 84, Charing Cross Road. Perhaps my New Year resolution is to not shove books at people. Perhaps I am too sleepy. In any case I am not going to insist you run out and buy her books now. I shall be sub-tle.

So what is my obscure theory about? I think Helene would have been the prototype internet junkie. I think it is a pity that Helene did not live in the full glory of the Internet. Or did she? She died in1997 so it is a faint possibility, I guess. So here are my incredibly astute deductions.

Helene ordered her first batch of books from Marks & Co at 84 Charing Cross Road in October 1949. The essays by Thomas Hazlitt and Robert Louis Stevenson took nearly a month to reach her. Today she could have access to any number of second-hand book shops from across the world who are online.  Everybody from Select Bookshop on Brigade Road to the bookstores of Hay-on-Wye are online.

When commissioned to write copy for a coffee-table book about NY she charges out and borrows three reference books and dips into all three at once. A definite indicator that she would have loved having 25 windows simultaenously open on her laptop gorging on the arcanae posted by the happy citizens of the world.

When she reads anything including early American history Helene feels a deep desire to share it with other people. Any victim will do. If she was around she could have joined the army of wikipedia editors paring information to the bone like piranha and uploading it.

Most importantly Helene's cheerful, funny, confident letters did not reveal her shyness. They let her make robust, passionate relationships around the world without ever meeting the people involved. Poverty was only one of the reasons she never met Frank Doel before she died. Hating to step out her house was just as strong a reason. What better world for a person like that than the Internet with its silvery cross-border glamour of chatrooms and blogs and online dating sites.

Of course it is entirely possible given the dull procedures of online shopping 84, Charing Cross Road would never have been written. So much for that theory.

Helene really is a writer for obsessive readers. Though her own writing has potent, almost-universal charm, to be in love with her you have to have spent quite a few lunch times in school with your nose in a fat book embarrassed about some social faux pas you made in the first period. Its attractiveness is less about being well-read as opposed to having memories of being socially inept and continuing to be slightly wierd. So here is Helene Hanff a young and independent woman in 30's New York. She is too creative to be a secretary, too bright to do anything dull, too normal to move to Hollywood when her main source of income, the television industry moved from New York to Hollywood and too funny for people to take for granted. Extremely talented yet hopelessly unsuccessful at writing the plays she set out to write. Her most famous book was a direct result of her chronic shyness. Despite her cult following she died fairly poor. Comforting in a strange way.


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