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Q's Legacy by Helene Hanff
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Q's Legacy (1985)

by Helene Hanff

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This seems to be the least-loved of Hanff's books. Readers apparently expect another book full of dated entries, be they letters or diary entries, and are nonplussed by this fairly straightforward narrative.

I think Q rounds out her other books very well exactly because it's more conventional in structure. 84, Charing Cross Road is the book that makes readers fall in love with Hanff's voice. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street makes those fans cheer, because (spoiler alert!) she finally gets to go to England. And Q's Legacy is the closest Hanff comes to fulfilling her fans' natural curiosity about her life and background.

Hanff keeps her cards pretty close to her vest, even when she finally tells us a bit about herself. There's nothing about her parents or her childhood here – the book starts when she's 18 – and the closest she comes to any mention of romance is admitting that she "hankered after" one of her teachers at the business school she attended after high school. As soon as her classmates learned of this crush,

they went to work devising ploys to get him for me. The best was Rita's. She got up in Business English class and suggested that after every Friday's English test, Mr. Smoter award a kiss to whoever got the best score. She made him stick to this award for the rest of the 90 days. Which was one reason why I had such a good time in that school I was almost sorry when the course ended.

Note that "almost." If you know anything about Helene Hanff, you'll know that business school and the sort of future it promised were a horrible fit for her. Instead of going on to be a secretary, Hanff became an autodidact: reading at night and picking up work she could do at home by day. (She considered office work as bad as prison, if not worse.) She also began writing "bad plays." "They specialized in plotless charm," she explains, and that's probably accurate – because if it didn't sound so mean, one could say that's a perfect description of the writing that made Hanff famous.

And yet we love it. Maybe you can get away with a minimum of plot, if you're charming enough.

Q's Legacy begins long before the events of 84, and closes long after Duchess. It stretches into Hanff's old age, including a terrifyingly funny encounter with cataract surgery. (Hint: If an eye surgeon says you won't be able to read for a month after the operation, he doesn't mean reading will give you a headache or tire you out. He means you won't be able to see printed letters. Or printed anything. Yikes. Hanff learned this when she tried to take the elevator and "confronted a double row of buttons which no longer had floor numbers on them." Only Helene Hanff could make a month of this sort of blindness funny and fun to read about.)

If you're looking for a weekend of pleasure, get your hands on all three of her books and read them in order of publication. Then cuss me out for making you think you'd need a whole weekend to read these slim, joyful works. You will if you take frequent breaks to make tea and fresh scones, which you'll be in the mood for after reading so much about England.

(Let me know if you need a recipe for scones, btw. I've been told mine rival any you can get in England, possibly because the English don't understand the magic of miniature chocolate chips.) ( )
  Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
Sort of autobiography by Helene Hanff, in which she describes what helped her in becoming a writer. The second half of the book mainly deals with her visit to London, after the trip which was recorded in "The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street". Once again very good reading, although I did not like the episodes in which she visited certain London and English sites. ( )
  hanibalito | Feb 10, 2015 |
If you haven’t read 84, Charing Cross Road then this book won’t make much sense to you. But if you have read then you will love this book.
As a young woman Helene Hanff discovered On the Art of Writing by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Aspiring to be a writer herself she found Q’s (as Quiller-Couch was called by everyone) lecture notes to be invaluable for learning the craft. Helene was not making much money but borrowing books from a library was not satisfactory for her. So, whenever she could eke out a few dollars, she would buy used copies of books for her book shelves. In a newspaper she saw a small ad for books from a London bookseller, Marks and Co at 84, Charing Cross Road. She wrote to them asking if they had 3 books she was looking for providing they cost less than $5 each. Marks and Co sent her two of the books and the correspondence detailed in 84, Charing Cross Road started. This book tells the story of how that book succeeded and spawned a television production, a play and more books and took Hanff across the ocean to London several times.
It is a charming story and one any book lover will adore. ( )
  gypsysmom | Sep 3, 2014 |
Any book about reading books is likely to be a good book, in my opinion :) I enjoyed Helene Hanff and her autodidactic approach to learning--twas refreshing, especially with her having lived when she did. These days, learning on one's own is so often considered radical when that's the natural way things go. I liked this book and have thus been prompted to seek out more of Ms. Hanff's writings. ( )
  Dana_Britt | Aug 25, 2014 |
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In grateful memory of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
"Not to pay a debt but to acknowledge it."
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Q and I first met on a summer morning when I was eighteen, at the main branch of the Philadelphia Public Library where I'd gone in search of a teacher; and I took him home with me despite certain doubts about his fitness for the post.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This ebullient memoir chronicles the author's lifelong love of books, which began with Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's "The Art of Writing" and developed with works by Izaak Walton, Cardinal Newman, and Milton.

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