M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

84. Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff  (1970, 94 pages)

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (1916 to 1997-USA) is a charming epistolary novel.    The correspondents are Ms Hanff herself and various members of the staff of a London Book Store Marks and Co. located at 84 Charing Cross Road.    The letters begin when Ms Hanff sees an advertisement in the Saturday Review of Literature indicating the store specializes in out of print and antiquarian books.   Ms Hanff sends them her "want list" and says she is willing to spend up to $5.00 for the books on the list.   The first letter was sent in October of 1949 when London is still under  rationing as a result of the war time austerity programs.     Three weeks later the book store sends her an answer saying they had found one of the volumes on the list and if she agrees to the asked price they will send it to her.   From this modest start a 20 year correspondence begins in which Ms Hanff  becomes  friends with the employees at the small store.   As they supply her with the books she wants she sends them small gifts.    The staff of this store actually know and love books.    It is the shared love of books that allows the friendship to develop.    Ms Hanff often speaks in her letters of  accepting the invitation to visit London but sadly she never does.   We share the excitement as she becomes a successful writer for American television.    I  enjoyed seeing the friendship develops over the years of letters.

As I read this book I thought that this is about a part of the reading life that will be pretty much unknown to future generations of book lovers.    It is great to be able to go online and download all sorts of old works but there is a special excitement searching for months or even years for a special title and at last reading it.   Maybe the love of books as physical objects may one day be something only felt by specialized collectors but the reading life will be the poorer for it.    

84, Charing Cross Road is a charming heart warming book.    There is a movie based on it.    Maybe it is about a bygone world but in this book we can at least imagine it.    I am really glad I read this book.   Imagine a book store where the employees can talk about Elizabeth Bowen or Ford Madox Ford instead of Twilight!

Mel u

12 comments:

SusieCat said...

There was a similar bookstore that played a role in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, wasn't there? Is it the same place? I remember travelling to London in the 70s and there was a gigantic bookstore that was a must to visit (sorry, I've forgotten the name -- senior moment!)

Thomas at My Porch said...

Wow, you have had a great week. You read two of my favorite books of all time back-to-back. I think 84 and The Uncommon Reader are both such wonderful reads. Truly wonderful gems for book lovers.

ds said...

One of my most favorite books. Sweet, touching, and jam-packed with literary stuff (other stuff as well; Helene Hanff was incredibly kind to the staff of the bookstore who were so kind to her). And the movie is wonderful also. Anthony Hopkins is the bookseller and Anne Bancroft is Helene Hanff. Talk about perfect casting!
Excellent review, Mel, and perfect for The Reading Life.

Mystica said...

I have seen a review of this book but it was quite a while ago. Your review brings it all back to me. Now to see whether our library has this. Thank you for this post.

Avid Reader said...

I loved this one too. The thought of books being obsolete in the future is terrifying!

Shelley (Book Clutter) said...

My main impression after reading this was how different the process of acquiring books is nowadays, as you mentioned. I had almost forgotten about the movie--I'll have to check it out.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I've seen the wonderful movie based on this book and really enjoyed it -- I always meant to read this one, too! I just adore the absolute charm of this story, and I'm sure the book is just as divine! As always, spectacular review!!

JoV said...

I love reading about bygone era, and this may be one that I will pick up!

I hate to think I can't feel a book in my hand and watch the pages flip and see how much is left for me to go, and look at the cover time and again.

Paper books can disappear but hopefully not in my lifetime!

Buried In Print said...

Every time I read this book a-g-a-i-n (and every time I watch the film a-g-a-i-n), I worry that some of the initial charm will be lost. But every time it works its wonder for me. I'm so glad you've discovered it, and I bet you'll be watching the film before long too: enjoy!

Mrs. B. said...

So glad you enjoyed this. It is charming. There's a film which you can download but I didn't like it as much as the book.

Brittanie said...

I loved this book too. I found out about it through the Guernsey Liteary and Potato Peel Society book. :)

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I am so glad to hear that you loved this. I read it recently, along with the sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsberry Sreet. Here is my review of them both if you are interested
http://www.pageturnersbooks.org/2010/08/books-about-books-84-charing-cross-road.html

I liked your observation about the manner in which the books are sought and shared, I agree that it is something that will become less and less common as time progresses