Synopsis: Told in letters from 1949 to 1969, Helene lives in NYC and searches for old books. She corresponds with Frank at Marks & Co., in London, which sells vintage books, and they write letters back and forth over the years.
Review: A short, sweet read that is probably best read all at once.
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff was an enjoyable book. It is very short, my copy is 97 pages long, and it is told in letter format, so many of the pages only have a paragraph or two on them. I picked this book up because I needed a quick book I could read in a day, and I also needed a physical book, not an e-book. I was thrilled to find this on my bookshelves, and it was the perfect read for what I was looking for.
“I just never saw a book so beautiful. I feel vaguely guilty about owning it. All that gleaming leather and gold stamping and beautiful type belongs in the pine-panelled library of an English country home; it wants to be read by the fire in a gentleman’s leather easy chair – not on a secondhand studio couch in a one-room hovel in a broken-down brownstone front.”
Told in letters from Helene in New York City, and Frank at Marks & Co in London, my copy is billed as a “love-affair-by-mail”, and I just did not get any romantic vibes between Helene and Frank. The only love I felt was friendship, and love of old, used books.
There isn’t a whole lot to say, really. 84, Charing Cross Road is nonfiction, the letters are real, and the address of Marks & Co., the used bookstore, is real, but according to Wikipedia it is now a McDonald’s. This is extremely sad to me.
There was a movie made based on the book, starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft. I saw this movie years and years ago, and remember nothing about it. I’d be interested to see the movie now and see how the book is adapted to the screen and what additions and changes are made.
I liked peeking into the lives of the different characters. You get a sense of Helene’s humor, and Frank’s dryness and love for his family. Since the letters span twenty years, you really get a sense of time and life, and various people come and go, and I wanted just a bit more information about what happened to certain characters.
Since there isn’t a whole lot of plot, it’s probably best that you plan to read this in one sitting, so you aren’t pulled out of the rhythm and atmosphere of the letters.
“I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.”
The letter writing somewhat reminded me of book blogging, and the book bloggers that I interact with. We only know snippets of each others lives, we are brought together by love of books, and it’s fun to think that some blogging relationships may last for years!
Bottom Line: A sweet, cute read that is best read all in one sitting.
Link to the Wikipedia entry for the book 84, Charing Cross Road
Have you read 84, Charing Cross Road? Have you ever seen the real-life location? What are your thoughts on the movie – is it worth watching?