Tag Archives: Helene Hanff

Queries and Conundrums: To Fold or Not to Fold


I have a confession to make.  I hope you won’t lose all respect for me, but it’s true . . . I am a Folder.  Yes, I will fold the corner down on the page of the book to mark my place.  It is a mindless, I’ve-stopped-reading-so-I-have-to-mark-my-place, I-can’t-wait-to-start-back-up-here, action that I have always done.  Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t that I don’t have bookmarks.  I have bookmarks galore.  Seriously what do people give book lovers?  Bookmarks!  I have beautiful bookmarks that were gifts from friends from around the world, sentimental ones that my children have made for me, and notecards, receipts, and anything else lying around that I can stuff between the pages, but do I use them?  No.  And is that really bad?

Now I know that my neighbor and good friend is cringing while reading this.  Whenever I lend her books, she always notes the folded down pages.  To be fair, I really, really try to use bookmarks when I borrow a friend’s book and I’ve only folded down a library book page once . . . okay, maybe twice, but it was an emergency!

It’s not that I don’t like bookmarks; I just don’t think to use them.  I love to read and any spare second I might have is spent reading.  If I have 15 minutes, 5 minutes, or 30 seconds, and I can get a chapter, a page, or a paragraph in, I am going to do it.  Then, as I am in a rush to do what I was supposed to be doing, I just quickly mark my page.  Nothing infuriates me more than losing my page.  The time spent looking for where I left off could be used reading more!  I am notorious for reading in carpool line, getting involved in the story, and then getting honked at because I am not moving forward . . . yeah, I’m that person.  Don’t judge.  Invariably, I toss my book to the passenger side of the car, the book overshoots the seat and falls down by the door.  The bookmark and marked spot are long lost and I frustrate the people in carpool behind me because I am trying to reach across the seat to grab the book before a kid opens the door and the book falls out and lost for good.  Yes, I have issues.

I akin folding down pages to book inscriptions . . . yes, I do that too.  In Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road, she talks about book inscriptions and how they tell a story of previous book lovers.  I have a children’s Christmas book that belonged to my Dad with an inscription from an old neighbor.  I have an old book of my grandmother’s that has her maiden name written in her hand-writing.  Those are treasures to me.  Whenever I give a book for a birthday, holiday, or new baby, I always inscribe the front cover so the recipient might enjoy looking back to see where the book came from.  I love to find bookmarks that other people have used in books – old grocery lists, postcards, and scraps of paper.  It tells the history of the people who have loved these books.  I get such a thrill when I reread a book and note where I previously stopped and the corner is creased from a previous fold. The first time I read the book and paused there, did I have an idea as to what would come next?

My mom and I mailed books back and forth that we thought each other might enjoy.  We both would make notes and stick them in the books, noting what we liked about the book or whether it was part of a series and to make sure to read them in order.  It was a great way to keep in touch and share great books.  My sister lived in Spain and traveled in Europe for a number of years and I always loved to get books from her.  I would find boarding passes that she used as bookmarks from London or Madrid or Venice.  I always got a thrill when I would read a book she shared that I knew had been some place far more exotic than the car pool line . . . yes, I think I do have car pool issues as well.

So there, I’ve said it.  I’m a Folder.  What do you think?  Any other closet folders out there?

84, Charing Cross Road

Title:  84 Charing Cross Road
Author:  Helene Hanff
Publisher:  Avon Books
Publication Date:  1970
ISBN:  0-380-00122-5

Book Summary:
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.

Book Commentary
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.