Thursday, May 12, 2022

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road
by Helene Hanff
Read by Barbara Rosenblat, John Franklyn-Robbins, Jill Tanner
1 Hour 55 Minutes
Published 

Publisher's Summary: 
When Helene Hanff makes an innocent inquiry about the possibility of purchasing hard-to-find books through Marks and Co., Booksellers, she begins a twenty-year love affair with Frank Doel, the proper English bookseller who answers her letter and sends along her first order in the fall of 1949. 

They are two very unlikely correspondents: she a cranky Jewish New Yorker who writes TV scripts and lives in a messy apartment on East 95th Street; he a determinedly courteous middle-class Englishman who sends her beautifully bound and often obscure antiquarian books from the shop he manages on Charing Cross Road in London. 

The letters, written between 1949 and 1969, capture the period and pay tribute to the special kind of reader who treasures a well-worn classic.

My Thoughts:
84, Charing Cross Road is one of those books I've been meaning to read for years. But I didn't own it, couldn't find it from my library book on audiobook and always had so many other books that popped up ahead of it. And then the other day I was looking for audiobooks that would be good for the hubby and me to listen to on road trips and there it was, 84, Charing Cross Road, not only available but also less than 2 hours long. Fewer than 24 hours later, I was finished with it. And now I'm a little sad that I can never "read" it again for the first time. 

Helene Hanff is a no-nonsense writer living in a studio apartment with a penchant for obscure, mostly nonfiction books. When her first request to Marks and Co booksellers in London is a success, the store quickly becomes her go-to for book acquisitions. She can't be bothered to go out into New York to search for the books and she can't be bothered to convert the pounds into dollars and she often complains about the books that are sent to her. But it is equally clear that she is, at least partially, teasing and soon such a deep affection grows between Frank and Helene that others in the store begin writing to Helene as well. Getting to know them, Helene begins sending packages of foodstuffs to the store employees, knowing, as she does that so many things are in such low supply in London and finding the cost to herself to be quite reasonable. Soon Helene is also carrying on a correspondence with Frank's wife, a neighbor, and, eventually Frank's daughter. 

Helene is witty and fun; I adored the way Helene described things. Frank is ceaselessly patient and warm. I so wanted Helene to make it across the ocean so that they could meet. I so wanted to meet each of them. The best part was knowing that these people were real, that these letters were real. And those letters provide a marvelous glimpse of what life was like as a writer in New York and for the people of England following the war. It almost seems trite to call this book "charming" or "delightful;" but it is, it really is both of those things. It is also moving and thoughtful and makes me want to run to my nearest used book store. 

Helene proclaims that she doesn't like to read a book for the first time, far preferring to read books that bring her comfort. I don't reread often; but, for 84, Charing Cross Road, I will gladly channel Helene. This may be the book I read every year. 



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