Monday, June 18, 2012

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Utterly Charming! You know, there are some writers out there who enjoy using words, and breaking enough grammar rules to keep things interesting. I think that especially in a book of diary or letter arrangement, grammar rules can be made a little looser. Whenever I read a book like this I want to dash off and pen a dozen witty, clever, interesting, happy, lively letters. I think my friends would tire of the copy-cat sentiment that would be produced by such a reaction, though.

Years ago I watched the movie of 84, Charing Cross Road. I didn't like it. Now I know why! Such a compendium was never, ever meant to be transferred to the screen – I don't care how many TV scripts the author wrote. Theses were letters, between a reserved English gentleman in a bookshop and a penniless girl writing from a New York apartment. Over about twenty years, Helene Hanff and Frank Doel wrote across an ocean as she sought books and he found them. Helene has a noisy sense of humor and a proclivity for uppercase letters when she is PARTICULARLY PEEVED. Additionally, her loving and vivid descriptions of the editions she secured are enough for any bibliophile to sigh, and the idea of an Englishman in a bookshop in England pulling books off shelves and wrapping them up and sending them off to America is something any buyer of old volumes would have to be envious of.

I was surprised by what great blocks of time were blotted out, silent between letters. There were obviously large sections of the correspondence missing, also. Reading the book feels distinctly like sitting in a somewhat noisy cafe and evesdropping on the very interesting conversation happening one or two tables over from you. You miss bits of it, and the bits you hear make you want to go over and barge your way into the conversation, making them start over at the beginning and repeat whatever you missed. Of course, you can't, not in either case – it would be terribly rude.

I picked this book up because my friend Teresa has made mention of it before and expressed her deepest admiration for the little book. On her trip to England last Spring she also stopped by the place where the shop used to be, and sent me a picture of a little plaque commemorating the spot. I am glad to have had the pleasure of reading it. It's very brief, lots of fun, and an absolute delight to either anglo- or bibliophiles, or both. 

I read the book in about an hour all told. Amazon has it for quite cheap!


  1. :grins broadly:

    I knew you would love it. Now if only I knew where it was packed, I'd go read it again...

  2. I saw this on your Goodreads, and I'm adding it now. *sigh* Between you and Carrie I will die before I get through my "to-read" list.
    I love books with letters/diary entries. But you knew this.

  3. BAH!!!! I read this AFTER I placed my Amazon order (which included Bleak House, by the way). But I shall put this on my wishlist for the future.

    Yeah, well, Heather, you're adding to my list as well. :P