84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Reading this tiny gem is akin to finding a treasured trunkful of letters- yellowed with age- in an old and musty attic.
84 Charing Cross Road is a book of correspondence; letters sent from an intelligent, avid reader and professional writer- Helene Hanff. Residing alone in New York City on a modest income prior to the days of computers and inexpensive international phone communication, Helene used old fashioned correspondence to search for desired books. Her letters were answered by various employees of a small privately-owned specialty “out-of-print” book shop on Charing Cross Road in London.
In her first letter dated October 5, 1949, Miss Hanff is formally inquiring of gentlemen at the Marks & Co. Booksellers if they have available any of the books on her enclosed list. The answer from Mr. Frank Doel is addressed to “Dear Madam” informing Helene that yes they do… and some of them are on the way with an invoice enclosed. More correspondence ensues; less formal, charming, witty inquiries, an open account established as more books arrive at Helene’s apartment. In 1949 Europe was still suffering from the aftermath of World War II and most products- including food- were rationed or simply not available at all. So as Helene accumulates her treasured books- to show her appreciation- she starts sending packages of food to London with instructions to share these treasured items with the other book shop employees. It isn’t long before they too are corresponding with Helene.
As time passes (20 years in total) the story unfolds, letter by letter. This is not a story of adventure, or love, or mystery. It is simply a subtle reminder, page after page, that at one time in the not so distant past people wrote letters, established long lasting relationships with shop keepers, made business arrangements based on trust, provided first class customer service, and showed tremendous appreciation for little things in life; the simple pleasures.
Being a book lover and an old fashioned romantic at heart, I loved 84 Charing Cross Road. It is warm, simple, sincere, laugh-out-loud funny and sad, full of historical tidbits and tips on interesting reading material, and light (only 97 pages). It can easily be read in one sitting.
From the very first page of this memoir I was absolutely mesmerized… wishing only there could have been more. Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft did a wonderful job starring in the movie version.
Rated 4 Stars.
All contents © 2010 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.