Title: 84, Charing Cross Road
Author: Helene Hanff
Publisher: Penguin books
Publication Date: January 1, 2970
Rating: ☕☕☕☕ (4/5)
If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much.
84, Charing Cross Road chronicles a special epistolary relationship between a writer in New York and a used-book dealer in London – whose shop is located in (as you guessed it) 84, Charing Cross Road. Years passed and an unlikely friendship developed. It is such a fun and heartwarming experience reading the correspondence between Helene Hanff and Frank Doel that spanned 20 years.
This was set in the 50s and letter-writing then is the only way you can communicate across the globe – so you can only imagine how it was back then. It was interesting to read how different the writing styles are between the two: Helene’s breezy American English versus Frank’s more “formal” standard English. And, oh, what a wonderful thing to have someone painstakingly find rare books for you. It was also a journey to read how the staff of Marks & Co., especially Frank, opened up to her and Helene becoming their most beloved patron despite never meeting.
All that gleaming leather and gold stamping and beautiful type belongs in the pine-panelled library of an English country home; it wants to be read by the fire in a gentleman’s leather easy chair—not on a secondhand studio couch in a one-room hovel in a broken-down brownstone front.
This book also presented an intimate look into the mind of a true blue bibliophile. Helene Hanff was a lover of literature and a lover of books – and in her letters, it shows. Of course I’ve read a lot of booklovers in stories but it is such a delight to be able to read her ponderings and how she holds books in high regard in her life. I loved reading Helene’s witty musings and her admiration for them. From loving and reading only nonfiction (“I never get interested in things that didn’t happen to people who never lived.”/ “I’m a great lover of i-was-there books.”) to giving fiction a chance because of the very books that Frank recommended. I also relate to her appreciation of “beautiful” books – from how it was bound to the actual words inside. It’s such a breath of fresh air to have a book spotlight a woman’s deep love and adoration for the written word and everything related to it.
But I don’t know, maybe it’s just as well I never got there. I dreamed about it for so many years.
This story is both a curious and offbeat (relative to current day-to-day) story that I always have to remind myself that it really happened in real life. Reading this now (2021) and imagining it is almost wishful thinking as this is a relationship that you can rarely form in today’s age. There’s a very comforting element to this book, the way it feels like the sort of story you read when you’re having a bad day: like a cup of hot chocolate or a warm blanket on a cold morning. I also liked how it was written, despite it being an old book. The feed is so full of overhyped and new books these days so it’s nice to find something like this pop up once in a while. Such a wholesome and memorable read!
I remember years ago a guy I knew told me that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for. I said I’d go looking for the England of English literature, and he nodded and said: “It’s there.”
P.S. This was made into a movie in the 80s starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins and watching some snippets last night made me smile and tear up. I hope I could watch it in full in the coming days.
I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.
It’s against my principles to buy a book I haven’t read, it’s like buying a dress you haven’t tried on…
What a weird world we live in when so beautiful a thing can be owned for life—for the price of a ticket to a Broadway movie palace, or l/50th the cost of having one tooth capped.
It looks too new and pristine ever to have been read by anyone else, but it has been: it keeps falling open at the most delightful places as the ghost of its former owner points me to things I’ve never read before.
Somebody borrowed mine and never gave it back. Why is it that people who wouldn’t dream of stealing anything else think it’s perfectly all right to steal books?
About the Author
Helene Hanff (April 15, 1916 – April 9, 1997) was an American writer born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is best known as the author of the book 84, Charing Cross Road, which became the basis for a stage play, television play, and film of the same name.