Last month at my local book club, another friend mentioned this title and I verbalized the fact that I had long wanted to read it but hadn't gotten around to it yet. The next time I saw my friend she appeared with a gift in hand! It's always special to be given a book that you've wanted to read for a long time - especially by someone who loves to read as much as you do. Not wanting to waste any more time in ignorance of it, I devoured it the next day.
84, Charing Cross Road is an extremely short book written entirely in letters. That's right - the entire book is a series of letters and packages which traveled between Helene Hanff of New York and an English bookshop - Marks & Co. - located on Charing Cross Road. Hanff was something of a snobby reader by some estimation and she had a hard time finding books that suited her in America. She was looking for older copies and nicer editions of glorious, beautifully written books! She heard about Marks & Co. and wrote to them to see if they might help her track down particular titles.
The letters travel the ocean from 1949 through 1969, during which time so much history was made. It is interesting reading the letters, not just for the love of good books, but also because the world was recovering from war and progressing in any variety of manners. The letters are enlightening, as specifically relates to the state of society post-World War II. Helene was a playwright in New York City and so you also get a feel for the "starving artist" in the big city.
A few of my favorite excerpts from their letters:
Helene wrote a letter to Cecily, one of the bookshop employees:
"A newspaper man I know, who was stationed in London during the war, says tourists go to England with preconceived notions, so they always find exactly what they go looking for. I told him I'd go looking for the England of English literature, and he said: "Then it's there."
I love that! Especially since we're planning a family trip to England in the next year or so and I will be going in search of the England of English literature. I hope I find it!
Helene writes to Frank Doel, perhaps her chief correspondence at the bookshop:
"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?"
This book has been made into a movie but I decided not to watch it after watching the trailer. Anne Hathaway and Anthony Hopkins starred in the film and they are very fine actors capable of bringing this book to life in a very happy and fun way. However, my reason for wanting to skip it is that the movie turns the story into a romance between Hanff and Doel. If you read the book you will quickly discover that there is no romance between them other than a shared love of reading. Doel is actually happily married to someone else and therefore I have objections to the change between the book and the screen version. I'll skip that but I'm glad not to have skipped the book! Pick it up if you get the chance. I think you'll like it. It is quite delightful and I am indebted to my friend for the read. (Thank you!)