84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hannf
First line: Gentlemen: Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books.
Last line: Nevertheless, we will try to write when we can if you would like this, and look forward to hearing from you. Yours truly, Shelia
Keywords: letters, used English bookstore, writer in New York, readerly enthusiasm, kindness, after WWII, friendship, TRUE STORY
Okay so, I just realized that these are actual letters between the author and Frank Doel.
That makes it so much more amazing- that takes it to an entirely new dimension of amazing. What in the world. THIS IS SO COOl.
Hold up, I should probably explain. 84, Charing Cross Road is a bunch of letters written from 1949-1969 between Helene Hanff in New York and Frank Doel at the bookstore MARKS & CO. in London. First of all, that’s already awesome- two people on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean wrote letters to each other for TWENTY YEARS. That is the kind of pen pal correspondence that I can only dream of aspiring to.
But wait, it gets even better.
Miss Hanff begins writing Frank Doel in the first place because she was in dire want/need of a bunch of out-of-print books and couldn’t find the ones she wanted in New York. That’s what led her to write the bookstore. Their friendship began because of their LOVE OF BOOKS.
Oh my goodness, this is beautiful.
Also, I should mention that when I say “letters,” I am not talking about the boring kind of letters- the ones that are super long, jammed with hard words like the people writing them are purposely trying to confuse each other, and are even more flowery than actual plants. Nope, the letters in this book are the opposite of that. They’re really short and filled with personality.
For example, here’s probably the most famous quote from the book:
“WHAT KIND OF PEPYS’ DIARY DO YOU CALL THIS?
this is not pepy’s diary, this is some busybody editor’s miserable collection of EXCERPTS from pepy’s diary may he rot.
i could just spit.”
And there’s a movie too!
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
First line: I am a blood-soaked girl.
Last line: How much sturdier.
Keywords: cult, victim, juvie, courage, lies, truth- looking for truth, FBI agent, friendship, pain
This book is about a girl who has lived in cult for most of her life and what happens after she leaves under dramatic circumastances that come with equally as dramatic consequences. Which is not a story you see everyday, that’s for sure. However, there’s also some things in this book that are as common as questions: not knowing what you truly believe and fighting to search for what that is, not knowing for sure who is trustworthy but still taking a terrifying leap of faith to give someone a chance.
Minnow isn’t a straightforward person, and she’s lived a life that’s the farthest thing from straightforward, but that doesn’t stop her from being an honest narrator who tells her story as she sees it.
Also, this book covers serious, horrible things, but it’s not dark- if that makes any sense. For example, the top of page 308 says:
“You’re stuck in jail. What can you do?”
And then nine lines down, it reads:
“‘You wanna hear something cool’ she asks.
‘I just read that the brain is the fattiest organ. Contains up to sixty percent fat,’ I say.
‘Yo brain’s so fat, the last time you got a brain fart, it caused a tsunami in China,’ she says, guffawing loudly at her own joke.
‘Oh yeah,’ I say. ‘Well your brain’s so fat, it…it probably eats extra servings of chicken nuggets.’
She squints at me. ‘You didn’t do that right.'”
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
First line: I’ve always been fascinated by candles.
Last line: And she laughed.
Keywords: juju (magic), friendship, fighting evil, not fitting in, Nigeria/America/African-American, learning who you are, joshing around
I want to talk about the admiration this book has gotten from other authors. The inside flap ends with “Ursula K. Le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones are Nnedi Okorafor fans. As soon as you start reading Akata Witch, you will be, too!”
Ursula K. Le Guin wasn’t a name that was familiar to me before, but I can tell from simply searching her name that she’s huge- like humongous huge. There’s two lists on just the first page of Google results devoted to helping people decide which of her books to read.
Here’s what she actually said about Akata Witch.
“There’s more vivid imagination in a page of Nnedi Okorafor’s work than in whole volumes of ordinary fantasy epics.” – Ursula K. Le Guin
Those are some pretty strong words right there.
As for Diana Wynne Jones, I have actually read a few of her books, and Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my favorite books. It’s so good. Jonathan Stroud blurbed it on the back cover too, and his name caught my eye because I just finished one of his books (The Screaming Staircase) YESTERDAY- strange, right? It was quite good.
Now, about the book itself: it’s a good combination of things. The writing style is simple and clean. The characters are distinct but not too tortured of artists/magicians just yet- thankfully, because they’re still kids. It gets serious at several points, but it doesn’t turn dark. They face the potential end of the world while still making jokes, which is further evidence for Reader Life Lesson #374: The most serious of times is when laughter is most seriously needed.
Does one of the three sets of keywords make up a winning lottery ticket for your to-be-read list? Or in regular terms, do any of the books sound interesting to you?
(I put these books on hold knowing almost nothing about them, but if someone had described each one to me, I wouldn’t have wanted to pick any of them up.
– 84, because I don’t like books written in letter format or basically any format besides default.
– The Sacred Lies, because I’m not drawn to the subject matters it contains.
– Akata Witch, because it doesn’t sound like the type of magic system I like.
This is why I like broadly accepting book recommendations and going into books pretty blind. Because then I sometimes end up discovering a bunch of good books that I wouldn’t have instinctively wanted to read.)
What is your favorite first or last line?
(While the first line of The Sacred Lies is one you can’t ignore, my favorite one would be from 84. As for last lines, I like Akata‘s because ending in laughter is always good, but I’m choosing “How much sturdier” from The Sacred Lies. It doesn’t make sense out of context, but it means so much.)
P.P.S. More mini-reviews of good books.
The beautiful bookshelf image belongs to kaylacrylics.