Title: 84 Charing Cross Road
Author: Helene Hanff
Publisher: Avon Books
Publication Date: 1970
Helene Hanff is a sarcastic New Yorker; a self-described “poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books.” A chance discovery of an advertisement of a bookseller in England who specializes in out-of-print books sparks a 25-year transatlantic correspondence with prim and proper English bookseller, Frank Doel. Helene writes perky and sometime impertinent letters requesting a variety of books and Frank responds with stoic charm and tact. Over the years, the customer relationship evolves into true friendship, and during the course of the letters, Helene is introduced to Frank’s wife and children, the other employees at Marks & Co. Booksellers, and even Frank’s Irish neighbor. Helene is sends eggs, meats, and nylons and other items unavailable during the war to her friends. They in turn send her distinctive books to add to her library. The true story is one of friendship, a love of books, and old-fashioned kindness.
The entire novel is written as the series of letters between New York and 84, Charing Cross Road, London. A 1987 film of the book stars Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.
You know those books you have on your shelf and just pick back up randomly and reread over and over? This is one of mine. This is a rare case where I saw the film first – I know, gasp! I loved the story, found the book, and it is one of my all-time favorites. It is a beautiful love story – a love affair with books and a love affair with England, two of my own loves! The story of Frank and Helene is not a romantic one but one of deep affection and just a bit of consternation.
At less than 100 pages, it is a quick read and one I highly recommend. If you need a smile or pick-me-up, find a cozy chair, a cup of tea, and spend an afternoon with two people who love books.
Who might like this book:
Love England? Love books? Love letter writing . . . with real paper? Love humor and warmth and friendship? This book is for you! It is perfect for all ages; I gave this book to my then 92-year-old grandmother and she loved it, but it is perfect for young adults as well. It is nostalgic of a bygone era and time when although the world was complex, life was a little simpler.