Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Do you ever wish to go back to a simpler time? A time where people stopped long enough to enjoy a cup of tea, read a book or write a letter? Well, as we all know, the grass is always greener in the places in our minds but they can also be quite charming on the printed page.

84 charing cross roadI’m not always a fan of biography: the endless recitation of facts and events, rather than the telling of a story, can force me to put a book down long before I’ve given it a fair chance. Not so with “84, Charing Cross Road”. This book is a slim volume and though I wished I could draw it out and live in Helene’s world for a little longer, I finished it in one sitting. The book is a compilation of correspondence from 1949 to 1969 between Ms. Helene Hanff, a New York script writer and bibliophile, and Frank Doel of Marks & Company book shop London, England.

The first letter is from Helene who is responding to a Marks & Company ad and requesting certain books that she is unable to locate for herself in acceptable editions in the US (and if you are a bibliophile, I’m sure you know what I mean by an acceptable edition: you can’t have just any old pile of printed and stitched papers on your bookshelf, can you?) The correspondence goes back and forth with more book requests and each side getting to know each other a little better. Helene has a love affair with this tiny bookshop and its inhabitants and they with her. It’s a relationship across an ocean that we get to follow, and live a little, through the words of two people who sincerely love books.

The book is what I would call ‘just a little bit darling’ but it’s an enjoyable read for a sunny afternoon in the hammock or a drizzly one, by the fireplace. If you enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel, this is a ‘must add’ to your reading list.

Available at Amazon.ca  or at your local library. Originally published in 1971 and reprinted since.

  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reissue edition (Sept. 27 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140143505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140143508
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