Monday, March 30, 2015

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff


It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene's sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

My take: 5 looks
Delightful! Simply delightful!

A woman in post-WWII New York, with a penchant for non-fiction, becomes pen pals with a stoically formal British antiquarian bookseller in London.

Helene Hanff is a spitfire, to say the least. Her correspondence is shockingly glib, informal, and playful with Frank Doel of Marks & Co Booksellers in London.

She has very specific taste, and he is able to find and send what she requests. The entire bookshop comes to care for Helene and look forward to her correspondence. However, when she discovers that England is still under heavy post-war rationing, she ups the ante and begins to send boxes and boxes of items available only on the black market in London.

The first letter in the book is dated October 5, 1949, and continues through the years to the final letter, dated October of 1969. The correspondents are most often Helene and Frank, but others in the shop, as well as Frank's wife, also pen a few missives. The love affair that these two share is a deep and committed one, and keeps the flame of their relationship alive for 20 years. And no, not a love affair with one another, but with books. The love of books is a compelling force!

A few of my favorite passages:

"...anything he liked I'll like except if it's fiction. I never can get interested in things that didn't happen to people who never lived." hh

"I personally can't think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book." hh

"Have you got De Tocqueville's Journey to America? 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?" hh

"I go through life watching the English language being raped before my face." hh

"I am going to bed. I will have hideous nightmares involving huge monsters in academic robes carrying long bloody butcher knives labelled Excerpt, Selection, Passage and Abridged." hh

Highly, highly recommended.

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