Sunday, August 24, 2008

Feeling Like Alice

Just like Alice in Wonderland fell down a rabbit hole, I seem to have fallen into World War II without trying. It's a long story. Last week end I arranged to meet Suzanne at the coffee shop at Barnes & Noble so we could walk to the nearby theater and see "Mamma Mia." I had a talk with myself before I went in Barnes & Noble. My reasonable self said,

"Your only reason for going in this store is to meet Suzanne. Look neither to the right nor to the left as you walk to the coffee shop. You do NOT need to buy a book."

My "bookish" self reluctantly agreed. I don't know what happened after that. When I "came to," I had a book in my hand that had the curious title, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The cover design featured an envelope that had obviously been addressed with a fountain pen, and the envelope was complete with postage stamps and post mark.

As I flipped through the book, I saw that the entire novel is a collection of letters written by the characters. Well, that did it. Being a lover of fountain pens and all things postal, how could I resist? Then too, how would I survive without ever knowing what in the world The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was? Needless to say, I bought the book and it accompanied me and Suzanne to the theater.

I was vaguely aware that Guernsey was English, but I didn't know that it was an island in the English Channel and that it was occupied by Germany during World War II. I made good grades in history, but somehow we never got around to this. I'm getting acquainted with the members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and what life was like during the occupation. There is sadness to this story. You can't be occupied for five years by an enemy army and not have sadness, but the courage and good humor outweigh the sadness.

My second encounter with World War II started six weeks ago, but I didn't know it. That's when I ordered the movie, 84 Charing Cross Road, from Netflix. I subscribe to the basic no-frills Netflix program. They send me one movie at a time. When I send it back, they send me another one. Since I'm more addicted to reading and writing than watching movies, this is all I can handle. And sometimes it's more than I can handle.

84 Charing Cross Road resided on my desk for weeks. I couldn't seem to find time to watch it. Why had I ordered it? Because it was about a New York writer who corresponded for years with an English seller of used books. Let's face it. I have a fettish for books and all elements of letter writing. In spite of this, the constant presence of 84 Charing Cross Road on my desk began to annoy me. I felt like a kid with homework.

Last night I decided to watch the darn movie and get it over with. Helene Hanff (Ann Bancroft), in New York, started her correspondence with Frank Doel (Anthony Hopkins), in London, in 1949 and continued it for twenty years. She was obsessed with books, out-of-print ones in particular. Frank Doel answered all her inquiries for obscure books and dedicated himself to locating them for her. Through these letters Helene learns about the deprivation that still existed in post-war England. Again, there is sadness, but the movie is full of funny incidents as the outspoken, humorous Helen relates to the staid and proper Frank Doel.

I was born in 1946 and grew up hearing about World War II. I don't usually seek out books or literature about the war, but I've been highjacked twice in the last six weeks and I think I am all the better for it.

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