84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This is a truly delightful collection of correspondence. At the time these letters were written, Helene Hanff was living in New York City and scraping together a living writing freelance. She opens with a letter to a bookshop at the titular address in London, naming herself a struggling writer with a taste for difficult-to-find, often out-of-print books, and asking for inexpensive copies of several. This begins a 20-year conversation with several bookshop employees and various others (family, friends) that is rich in many aspects. For one thing, Hanff is often hilarious. She pokes and needles her main correspondent, Frank Doel, “trying to puncture that proper British reserve.” She rails about inferior translations and offensive abridgements. The friendships that develop are heartfelt and helpful: during the years following World War II, when the British rationed meat, eggs, and nylons, Hanff sends her new friends care packages regularly. They reciprocate with lovely, thoughtful gifts, including (of course) books. The bookish angle is, obviously, not the least of this volume’s charms – we are all book nuts, no? My reading actually does not intersect Helene’s (I am switching to her first name, as do Frank et al, as I feel we are now friends) very often, but I appreciate the sentiment, and her reading certainly gives me a feeling for her personality. Yet another angle of interest is the cultural divide: Helene requests that her bills be “translated” into dollars as “I don’t add too well in plain American, I haven’t a prayer of ever mastering bilingual arithmetic.” Currencies form only one of the challenges, of course. Later, Frank’s wife will instruct Helene in making a Yorkshire pudding. (For which I thank her, as I know understand a little better what that is supposed to be.)

A very easy read, these 90-ish pages took me just over an hour. (Remember they’re letters, mostly short ones, so very few of those pages are filled with text.) I found this to be a book of great sentiment. It is sweet, heartfelt, funny, and made me nostalgic for what was in some ways a simpler time.

If you’re interested in a little further reading, there is a website here dedicated to research of the bookstore and its employees, the characters in the drama that is 84, Charing Cross Road.

To whatever book blogger it was that made me go out and buy this book, thank you. It was worth it.

Rating: 6 pagesofjulia.

5 Responses

  1. I’ll have to check this one out. The format sounds great.

  2. I loved this book! So glad you enjoyed it too.

  3. Julia, how funny that we both blogged a review of this book on the same day. I re-read it for about the fifth time and I love more with each reading. Now you need to Netflix the film version with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins (and Judy Dench as Nora). Love it, love it, love it. I didn’t know anything about he website, I can’t wait to check it out.

    • I know!! I thought that was a charming coincidence, too. 🙂 I daresay you’re one of the bloggers that brought this book to my radar (although I can’t remember exactly). Thanks for the tip on the film. I don’t get around to movies very often but hopefully in the long term it’ll make it. Sounds so charming! What a sweet little book – I only wish there were more of it – maybe that’s where the movie comes in.

  4. […] Dorkiness, Buried in Print, Care’s Online Book Club, DizzyC’s Little Book Blog, Pages of Julia,  Citizen Reader, One Librarian’s Book Reviews, the bluestocking society, A Bookish Way of […]

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