Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rosie's Riveters: Lesley & Helene Hanff

Rosie's Riveters is a weekly posting written by Booklust readers about riveting females in literature. Many readers have strong reactions to the women in the books they read- either very positive or very negative. These are the characters we find riveting, for good reasons or bad ones, and they form the population of Rosie's Riveters. Through this weekly post, we can discuss females we love to hate, or love to love. And maybe, just maybe- we can determine why we react so strongly to them.

If you are interested in participating, please comment on this post, e-mail me, or just fill out the template below and send it to me. I am always looking for more participants!

This week's poster is Lesley, who blogs at A Life in Books.  She has been blogging for a few years now, and I enjoy her site because she has many reviews on historical fiction and fantasy novels.  She reads a pretty eclectic range of books, though, from chick lit to classics to graphic novels to horror stories.  Her blog title bar also has a gorgeous picture of a bookstore that I would one day like to visit.  Or own.  Stop by and check it out!

Who is your Riveter?
Helene Hanff

What book does she feature in?
Most famously in 84 Charing Cross Road (a collection of letters written between herself and Frank Doel, a London bookseller) but she also wrote several other travelogue memoirs. My favorite is Underfoot in Show Business, one of her lesser known books. It tells the story of her attempt, as a young woman, to break into the New York City theatre world. I ordered a used copy from a local bookstore and when I got it, to my delight there was a personal inscription from Helene to the original owner. Since finding writing in books from previous owners was one of Helene’s favorite things about used books, that and the fact that it was a personal note written by her makes it extra special. 

Do you love her or hate her?
I love her! I wish I could have met her at some point but she died in 1997.

Describe her personality- how would you describe her to a friend?
Bold, intelligent, witty and just a bit temperamental. Also a true and voracious lover of books and reading.

Can you compare her to a celebrity?
Well, Anne Bancroft played her wonderfully in the 1987 film based on the book, but I can’t really think of any famous people who also happen to be bibliophiles.

What makes her riveting?
Well, she absolutely loves to read, and that shines through in her writing. But she’s also a great character in every sense of the word.

What do you most admire/despise about her?
Her collection of books, for one thing! I’d love to get my hands on a complete list of all the books she owned, but the only supposed thing resembling that is a book that’s out of print (The Library of Helene Hanff) and I can’t quite justify spending $100 on a used copy (but if anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas …) 

But it’s not just that. She was an independent woman who got great joy out of living, whether she was touring the streets of her beloved London or eking out an existence in a New York City sublet. She had her own opinions about things and was not afraid to share them. She valued her friendships. And she had a clever, self-deprecating sense of humor which really appeals to me.

Would you recommend reading the book in which the Riveter features?
Absolutely! 84, Charing Cross Road is a must-read for any book lover, and in turn you then must read The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which is taken from her diary when she finally traveled to England.

Do you have a quote by or about your Riveter that you'd like to share?

This is an excerpt from one of her letters to Frank Doel. It expresses my own anglophilic feelings: 

“Please write and tell me about London, I live for the day when I step off the boat-train and feel its dirty sidewalks under my feet. I want to walk up Berkeley Square and down Wimpole Street and stand in St. Paul's where John Donne preached and sit on the step Elizabeth sat on when she refused to enter the Tower, and like that. A newspaper man I know, who was stationed in London during the war, says tourists go to England with preconceived notions, so they always find exactly what they go looking for. I told him I'd go looking for the England of English literature, and he said: ‘Then it's there.’


  1. Lesley is so right about this one. Helene Hanff is fabulous and I loved Anne Bancroft's portrayal of her in the film.

    I would love to participate in your project. (Is it off limits to male bloggers? For alas, that is what I am.)

    I have been to your site before but I don't remember the really striking artwork you have up in your header. Did you do it? I love it.

  2. I love that quote! Now I really want to visit England.

    Great choice of a Rosie Riveter, Lesley! and how did I not know about Duchess of Bloomsbury Street? Must. Read.

  3. This is an amazing site. I'm thrilled to be here and I'm here because Cara from Ooh Books gave us both a lovely blog award. And I too love Vetinari...

  4. Helene was such an amazing woman ... great choice this week!

  5. I haven't read any books featuring Helene Hanff, although I do own 84 Charing Cross Road. I should make an effort to read it soon.

  6. Oh, this is a great choice for a Riveter! I read and loved 84 Charing Cross Road, and agree that it's a great book for a book lover. Helene Hanff is a truly amazing woman. Great post!


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