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84 Charing Cross Road; The Duchess of…

84 Charing Cross Road; The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (original 1976; edition 1982)

by Helene Hanff

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Title:84 Charing Cross Road; The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street
Authors:Helene Hanff
Info:Time Warner Paperbacks (1982), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:American Literature, Bought: London, Mail, Non-Fiction, Private Collection, Time Warner

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84, Charing Cross Road with The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff (1976)



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84 Charing Cross Road documents twenty-year of correspondences between Helene Hanff and Frank Doel. Helene was an American writer while Frank the chief buyer of Marks & Co, an antiquarian bookseller located at the eponymous address in London, England. Starting out as a request for obscure classics, the book follows the blossoming relationship with Helene and the people of Marks & Co. Followed by The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, a collection of diary entries of Helene’s trip to England and the tour of bookshops.

Helene noticed an ad in the Saturday Review of Literature and first contacted the shop in 1949. This started a beautiful love story found in this book, not between Helene and Frank but rather a love of books. This is the type of book you read if you are a book lover; it makes me wish I could correspond with a bookstore (or a book lover) about books. Can you imagine this happening with Amazon or Book Depository? Nowadays we have twitter (which I’m always on talking about my love of books) but 140 characters sometimes are not enough to say what you want to say.

I went into this book a little unsure, a collection of letters between a book lover and a bookseller, how great can this book really be? What I found was that the silver tongue and wit of Helene Hanff really made this book for me. You know that feeling in writing where you not sure if the person is being sarcastic or not, I started off wondering this but so found she had a wicked sense of humour and I’m so glad the people of Marks & Co never took offense (or they didn’t appear to). This might have been their (Frank Doel and the others that wrote to Helene) professional nature that slowly changed into a friendship, once they started to get to know each other and understood her sense of humour.

One of the major problems I had with this book is not really a problem but a personal preference, which has to do with grammar and formatting. I understand they tried to keep the writing the same as the letters but I wouldn’t mind if they fixed it a little to add punctuation and correct it. Another thing that throws me was the missing letters, I know things get lost but when you are absorbed in a conversation about a book (like Pride and Prejudice) it is disappointing to not know what happened.

The edition of 84 Charing Cross Road I borrowed from the library also came with The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. This is the travel diary of Helene Hanff’s time visiting London. Looking at details of this book the term ‘zesty memoir’ is mentioned a few times, but I felt it to be a disappointment in comparison. It was entertaining but it didn’t have the banter or wit I expected, it just felt like a step by step play of everything Helene did while visiting London. While these two books work as companion pieces The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street was too one sided for my taste. Think of it like a sequel, once you finish 84 Charing Cross Road you’ll probably want to know what happened on her trip to London.

84 Charing Cross Road has been made into a movie and a stage play; I’ve not seen them but I’m interested to see how this book translates into another medium. I love how the book is promoted with the line “so begins a love affair”; this is a love affair with books. I managed to write this entire review without mentioning this is an epistolary book that I feel the need to mention my achievement. Highly recommend that you get your hands on both novels and reading them, especially if you are a lover of books.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2014/01/18/84-charing-cross-road-by-helene-hanff... ( )
  knowledge_lost | Dec 3, 2014 |
I loved the movie and I loved the book. But I cried cried cried at the end of it. Penpals are almost a mythical thing these days. I think time has really added to the story here. I just love the idea of two total strangers becoming close, almost intimate, friends though simply writing letters to one another. This is a book that I will read again and again. ( )
  sscarllet | Nov 20, 2014 |
The novel itself deserves a ten out of five stars, but the epilogue about Hanff's trip to London gets a bit boring from time to time. However, still worth reading! Excellent, moving novel, makes you want to hug the book after reading. ( )
  Sanja_Sanjalica | Mar 14, 2014 |
84 Charing Cross Road tag: General non-fiction, letters

Helen Hanff is a freelance writer, who is also a bibliophile. She found an advertisement in the Saturday Review of Literature about an antiquarian book-sellers, based in England on 84 Charing Cross Road. She writes to them with a list of her most pressing problems because finding affordable books of this quality in America was at the time near impossible.

This is the beginning of a wonderful correspondence between her and the staff of Charing Cross Road, spanning 20 years. This one is witty, sassy, profoundly human and above all a must-read for all book lovers out there.

Highly Recommended

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street tag: General non-fiction, travel writing

This is an account of Helen Hanff travel’s to England, following the publication of 84 Charing Cross Road. She relates her feeling and impression of London, after having dream and read about the city for decades. She talks too about the people who absolutelty wanted to meet her during her stay, thanks to the book. This one is not as engaging as 84 Charing Cross Road but her wittiness is still transpriring. ( )
  electrice | Feb 21, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hanff, Heleneprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Skogsberg, BeritTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books.
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The UK edition titled 84 Charing Cross Road, ISBN 0860074382 and 1860498507, is actually an omnibus edition of 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. It is therefore correctly combined with this work, and should not be combined with the shorter single work 84 Charing Cross Road.
This is the main work - Hanff's Duchess of Bloomsbury (unabridged).  Please do not combine with omnibus/combined editions, anthologies or abridged editions.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0860074382, Paperback)

84, Charing Cross Road is 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 secretary informed her that Frank Doel had died. In the collection's penultimate entry, Helene Hanff urges a tourist friend, "If you happen to pass by 84, Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me. I owe it so much."

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:48 -0400)

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