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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » 84, Charing Cross Road » User review

A charming book of acerbic, gracious, hilarious letters that chronicle a twenty-year correspondence.

  • May 6, 2013
  • by
Rating:
+5
Letter writing is such a pleasure in this technology driven age of e-mailing and texting, partly because it is such an intellectually contemplative and slower paced act. The fluid clarity of thinking and conveyance that letter writing requires has by its own right made it a beautiful and all engrossing art form, and there are a plethora of literary artists in which to choose from whose own letters are a delight to read. As an example, I would cite the letters of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to her editor Maxwell Perkins or Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo, just to name a few. But with Helene Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road, a small yet delightful book that consists of only 94 pages and approximately 100 letters, give or take, there is something a bit more robust in its expressions, perhaps it's the simple bluntness and to-the-point opinions on a wide variety of topics, from how to make Yorkshire Pudding to Queen Elizabeth II all the way down to the numerous antiquarian books that Helene Hanff ordered from the Marks & Co. booksellers.

Besides the vast interesting topics that are addressed, it is really the developing twenty year relationship that was forged between Helene Hanff and the staff of Marks & Co. that makes for the best part of the reading. All of the letters are very short, even brusque, and while some are affectionate, others are bossy and acerbic, but there is always an undertone of affection and respect. Hanff would always place mail orders for rare British and obscure books, and that would send the staff of Marks & Co. all over the place to find that specified book, for nothing was too laborious for their American client. They appreciated her sense of humor, and her gruffness was always viewed as part of the act. In the letters, Hanff would tell the staff that she was a poor writer with champaign tastes in fine quality books, and they always obliged in her needs and wants. When she made it big as a television writer, her book orders were nonstop, and I'm sure that was much appreciated by the staff. Additionally, due to the world War II food shortages, she would send them food, presents and other valued commodities that they were lacking. They in turn would gift her with remarkable books that no value could be placed on. And there was always an open door policy for Hanff to come and visit them.

84, Charing Cross Road was a genuinely enjoyable read. Although the correspondence was separated by an ocean, it just goes to show the power of literature and of the written word and of the good deeds that back them up. If a reader needs some uplifting reading, try 84, Charing Cross Road; you will not be disappointed.
A charming book of acerbic, gracious, hilarious letters that chronicle a twenty-year correspondence.

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More 84, Charing Cross Road reviews
review by . February 10, 2002
This wonderful book on the love of books and the love of selling books is heartwarming and absolutely charming. Easily read (the format is a series of letters) and absolutely enjoyable. I could actually imagine Helen`s apt as well as the bookstore in England.My only complaint is that they could have inserted more letters. The gaps between them was quite large at times.
review by . January 18, 2001
This novel is all letters- letters exchanged between someone who is interested in old classic books, and someone who sells them. What could be more dreary and dry I hear you asking yourself. Nothing could be further from the truth. What the story really chronicles is a story of a shared passion that becomes a friendship, and in reality an unspoken mutual admiration and eventually love over a 20 year period.It is simply delightful, and the use of the letters as a way of telling the story means that …
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Christian Engler ()
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84, Charing Cross Roadis a charming record of bibliophilia, cultural difference, and imaginative sympathy. For 20 years, an outspoken New York writer and a rather more restrained London bookseller carried on an increasingly touching correspondence. In her first letter to Marks & Co., Helene Hanff encloses a wish list, but warns, "The phrase 'antiquarian booksellers' scares me somewhat, as I equate 'antique' with expensive." Twenty days later, on October 25, 1949, a correspondent identified only as FPD let Hanff know that works by Hazlitt and Robert Louis Stevenson would be coming under separate cover. When they arrive, Hanff is ecstatic--but unsure she'll ever conquer "bilingual arithmetic." By early December 1949, Hanff is suddenly worried that the six-pound ham she's sent off to augment British rations will arrive in a kosher office. But only when FPD turns out to have an actual name, Frank Doel, does the real fun begin.

Two years later, Hanff is outraged that Marks & Co. has dared to send an abridged Pepys diary. "i enclose two limp singles, i will make do with this thing till you find me a real Pepys. THEN i will rip up this ersatz book, page by page, AND WRAP THINGS IN IT." Nonetheless, her postscript asks whether they want fresh or powdered eggs for Christmas. Soon they're sharing news of Frank's family and Hanff's career. No doubt their letters would have continued, but in 1969, the firm's ...

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Details

ISBN-10: 0140143505
ISBN-13: 978-0140143508
Author: Helene Hanff
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Penguin
First to Review

"Original and delightful!"
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