Monday, September 14, 2009

What I'm Reading Now-84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff-This was a quick, charming read which was inspired by Nymeth's review a couple months back (which also inspired some musings on my part). Anne Bancroft's introduction provides some interesting background as to how she came to play Helene in the big screen version of 84 Charing Cross Road as well as a lovely example of how a book can completely and unexpectedly speak to a reader's heart.

This is one of those books that I'd always been aware of but never had any idea what it was about. It is a collection of letters exchanged between the author, who lived in New York City, and the staff at Marks & Co., Booksellers in London. It begins in October, 1949, when Miss Hanff writes to Marks & Co. to inquire about some out-of-print books and continues through to October of 1969. During this time Miss Hanff becomes good friends with many people connected to the bookstore-employees, their family members, even one of their neighbors becomes a correspondent for a short time. While the letters almost always contain at least some small trace of business dealings (and quite a good deal of sarcasm on Helene's part), they also reveal Helene's matter-of-fact kindness, and the genuine appreciation of that kindness from her new friends in London. In a letter dated December 8, 1949, Helene writes:

Now then. Brian [British boyfriend of Helene's upstairs neighbor] told me you are all rationed to 2 ounces of meat per family per week and one egg per person per month and I am simply appalled. He has a catalogue from a British firm here which flies food from Denmark to his mother, so I am sending a small Christmas present to Marks & Co. I hope there will be enough to go round, he says the Charing Cross Road bookshops are "all quite small."

Helene takes care of her bookstore friends in small but thoughtful ways until the rationing ends and they do their best to return the favor in whatever ways they can. Throughout, Helene's love of books is also clear; I am unfamiliar with many of the titles she mentions and so, surely, missed a lot of her references, but I enjoyed her sharp wit as well as the mental image I had of the proper London bookstore employee who first encountered her biting sarcasm in a business correspondence. Heavens! How to respond to such a woman? (Professionally, it turns out, very professionally.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book-it was funny and touching and inspiring, all good things in my book!


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6 comments:

Jeanne said...

I remember loving this book as a teenager, but I haven't read it since, so your review reminded me of what I loved about it.

Dreamybee said...

I get the feeling that this is a book that if you loved it as a teenager you would love it even more now. :)

Thomas said...

I love this book. And the movie is just as good in my opinion. I have not reviewed it on my blog, but I did use it as a reference point when reviewing two other epistolary novels (Henrietta's War and The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society).

Dreamybee said...

Thomas-I haven't seen the movie; it seems like it would be a bit of a challenge to make a movie-length feature out of Helene's correspondence as, really, not much is revealed about the goings-on of the writers' everyday lives over those 20 years. Regardless, I'm sure I would probably enjoy it too.

Nymeth said...

I'm very glad you enjoyed it as much as I did! This book had been on my radar for ages, but I too knew very little about it when I picked it up.

Dreamybee said...

I probably wouldn't have read it if it hadn't been for your review, so thank you!