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

by Helene Hanff, Frank Doel

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: 84, Charing Cross Road (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,292None1,650 (4.24)751
  1. 144
    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (khuggard, DetailMuse, helgagrace, ehough75, kraaivrouw)
    khuggard: Another tale about book lovers who come together through letters, with the same, post-war England setting.
    kraaivrouw: Another book about people who connect via their love of books and reading.
  2. 60
    The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff (Booksloth)
  3. 40
    Private Papers of a Bankrupt Bookseller, The by Anonymous (BasilBlue)
    BasilBlue: Fascinating peek at the nature of book sellers and book buyers in the early 20th century.
  4. 40
    Q's Legacy by Helene Hanff (lilithcat)
    lilithcat: "Q" is Arthur Quiller-Couch, whose book On the Art of Writing led Ms. Hanff to what would become many of her favorite books and writers.
  5. 30
    The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley (BasilBlue)
  6. 74
    The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (withwill, teelgee)
  7. 30
    The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee (Booksloth)
  8. 21
    An Alphabetical Life: Living It Up in the World of Books by Wendy Werris (sfelber)
    sfelber: Another book about books-this time the book selling business. A fascinating read. This memoir by Wendy Werris details her life from working in a San Francisco book store as a kid to becoming an independent book rep. A true behind-the-scene view for bibliophiles.… (more)
  9. 00
    The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story by Theodora Goss (MyriadBooks)
  10. 11
    At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays by Anne Fadiman (Booksloth)
  11. 01
    Book traveller by Bruce Bliven (trav)
  12. 01
    Venuto al mondo by Margaret Mazzantini (remeig)
  13. 01
    Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor (bnbookgirl, bnbookgirl)
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» See also 751 mentions

English (178)  Spanish (9)  French (6)  Catalan (5)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (203)
Showing 1-5 of 178 (next | show all)
Amazing how correspondence can bring on such heartfelt friendships across an ocean without the benefit of actually meeting. ( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
Amazing how correspondence can bring on such heartfelt friendships across an ocean without the benefit of actually meeting. ( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
You do not need 6000 pages to tell a great story. You do not even need 300. Hanff did not even need 100 - and most of the ones she needed were not even full pages.

The war had been over for a few years, England had emerged from it on the side of the winners but for everyone in the country, things do not look so bright - the economy of the country is destroyed and food and necessities are rationed - having eggs or meat counts for a luxury. And in London, on 84, Charing Cross Road is one of those bookstores that specializes in nothing and everything. Across the ocean, in New York, a writer that is trying to read books that most Americans don't care about needs some books. It's the era before internet, before the personal phones that allow you to talk with someone in less than a minute - it's these 2 post-war decades when the world was changing but the communication was still mainly with letters - the old fashioned, typed or written, snail mail letters. And somehow (that's what newspaper's ads are for, right) they connect - starting a relationship that will last for decades. On one side is the very British and very proper Frank Doel. On the other side is the crass and sometimes vulgar American (vulgar for the times anyway - there is nothing really inappropriate in any of the letters - it just seems... rude compared to the politeness of the British letters). And between books and editions, emerge the picture of post-war Britain with the food shortages; the British way of life. Suddenly, what started as a business transaction turns into a friendship for life - and the British side is not represented only by Frank - the rest of the shop's employees start showing up (and disappearing), Frank's wife and neighbours will make an appearance. And the letters keep coming - sometimes about books, sometimes about everything but books (the world does not stop just because people talk books so the Elizabeth coronation, Tottenham, the Dodgers and even some recipes make an appearance). While parcels with books cross the ocean and land in New York, parcels of food start showing up in the bookstore - despite the crassness and snarkiness of some Helene's letters, she is deeply moved from what is happening in Britain. The style that looks rude at the start seems almost charming later - that peculiar American sense of humor and entitlement shows through but without any meanness.

The two main corespondents never meet - 20 years pass with letters going between them but before Helene manages to go to London, Frank is dead. This is where the book finishes - with Helene still in New York, never seen the country that she really wants to see. But then, a meeting would not have made them better friends. Letters can be a very powerful way to tell a story and memoirs in letters usually reveal a lot more than narratives. This small book just reminded me of that.

If you had not read this book, just find a couple of hours and read it. It is a love letter to a world that does not exist anymore (and that was already disappearing at the time when the book was written). It is a book about the love of reading and the love of books. And honestly, there is no excuse for any reader not to read it. Regardless if you read only classics, only modern books or whatever else. ( )
9 vote AnnieMod | Jan 30, 2014 |
This small collection of letters between writer Helene Hanff and the employees of a bookseller in London is simply charming. The first letter is dated October 5, 1949, when Helene sends an inquiry to Marks & Co. Booksellers after seeing an ad in The Saturday Review of Literature. Sure enough, they are able to find and ship an edition of Selected Essays that includes the three, written by Hazlitt, which she seeks. Thus begins a correspondence and business relationship that spans two decades. Helene is sharply witty, as is Frank Doel, her primary agent at Marks & Co., but they are also both as generous of spirit as any two people on Earth. Though the collection is quite short, it calls for a couple of quotes:

In 1952, Helene expresses her joy and gratitude at receiving "three honest navy-blue volumes" of Sam Pepys in the post. She goes on to muse about relationship with books:
"I houseclean my books every spring and throw out those I'm never going to read again like I throw out clothes I'm never going to wear again. It shocks everybody. My friends are peculiar about books. They read all the best sellers, they get through them as fast as possible, I think they skip a lot. And they NEVER read anything a second time so they don't remember a word of it a year later. But they are profoundly shocked so see me drop a book in the wastebasket or give it away. The way they look at it, you buy a book, you read it, you put it on the shelf, you never open it again for the rest of your life but YOU DON'T THROW IT OUT! NOT IF IT HAS A HARD COVER ON IT! Why not? I personally can't think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre one."

She speaks the truth and cracks you up doing it.

There are also warmer, sweeter moments of book loving to be had. After sending her usual box of rationed foodstuffs to her friends at Marks & Co (which they always appreciate immensely), she says
"I do think it's a very uneven exchange of Christmas presents. You'll eat yours up in a week and have nothing left for show for it by New Year's Day. I'll have mine till the day I die -- and die happy in the knowledge that I'm leaving it behind for someone else to love. I shall sprinkle pale pencil marks through it pointing out the best passages to some booklover yet unborn."

Now, I know there are those among us who would not appreciate a prior lover of that book having "pointed out the best passages to us" (I'll choose my own best passages, thank you very much), but Helene's love of literature is expansive. She not only loves the books, she loves everyone who has ever also loved the books! And when a used copy, which is what she mostly acquires, falls open to a particular spot, she relishes the thought that someone else read this book and lingered or revisited this particular spot in the narrative.

And finally, I have to mention the delightful way that interesting tidbits in history peek at us from the pages. Churchill, QEII, JFK....
From September 2, 1955 in a letter to Frank:
"I shall be obliged if you will send Nora (Frank's wife) and the girls to church every Sunday for the next month to pray for the continued health and strength of messrs. gilliam, reece, snider, campanella, robinson, hodges, furillo, podres, newcombe and labine, collectively known as The Brooklyn Dodgers. If they lose this World Series I shall Do Myself In and then where will you be?"

Thank goodness that, in addition to using creating and interesting punctuation, Ms. Hanff generally wrote in hyperbole.

Her quips and ribs and jabs at and about literature reminded me of some around this beloved LibraryThing. (what? you haven't yet visited a "talk" forum here? Then what on Earth are you doing reading this review? Go visit some threads and make friends!)

I give this lovely collection a hearty five stars and recommend it unreservedly. ( )
4 vote EBT1002 | Jan 29, 2014 |
It was absolutely wonderful to spend a few hours in the company of these literary correspondents across the pond who betrayed so much character and humanity. A pleasure. ( )
  ukforever | Dec 14, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 178 (next | show all)
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of what may be the most unlikely New York Times bestseller ever: Helene Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road. ...84 Charing Cross Road is a perfect example of why you can't judge a book by its cover, its length, or the unorthodox nature of its content. Ultimately what makes the book work is what makes any book work, whether fiction or nonfiction: the relationships between the characters....84 Charing Cross Road is at its core a book about lovers of books, and is at the same time one of the funniest and most touching books you'll ever read
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Helene Hanffprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Doel, Frankmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Gómez i Casademont, PuriTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kooten, Barbara vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Premoli, MarinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
F.P.D. In Memoriam
First words
Gentlemen: Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books.
Quotations
My friends are peculiar about books. They read all the best sellers, they get through them as fast as possible, I think they skip a lot. And they NEVER read anything a second time so they don't remember a word of it a year later. But they are profoundly shocked to see me drop a book in the wastebasket or give it away. The way they look at it, you buy a book, you read it, you put it on the shelf, you never open it again for the rest of your life but YOU DON'T THROW IT OUT! NOT IF IT HAS A HARD COVER ON IT! Why not? I personally can't think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book. [54]
I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to "I hate to read new books," and I hollered "Comrade!" to whoever owned it before me. [7]
It [the Book Lover's Anthology] looks too new and pristine ever to have been read by anyone else, but it has been: it keeps falling open at the most delightful places as the ghost of its former owner points me to things I've never read before. [56]
Have you got De Tocqueville's Journey to America?  Somebody borrowed mine and never gave it back.  Why is it that people who wouldn't dream of stealing anything else think it's perfectly all right to steal books? [61]
A newspaper man I know, who was stationed in London during the war, says tourists go to England with preconceived notions, so they always find exactly what they go looking for.  I told him I'd go looking for the England of English literature, and he said:
"Then it's there." [13]
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
The UK edition titled 84 Charing Cross Road, ISBN 0860074382, 1844085244 and 1860498507, is actually an omnibus edition of this title and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. Works identified as this omnibus should not be combined with this work, 84 Charing Cross Road.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
VIRAGO EDITION:
Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase 'antiquarian book-sellers' scares me somewhat, as I equate 'antique' with expensive. I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or in Barnes and Noble's grimy, marked-up schoolboy copies.

So begins the delightfully reticent love affair between Miss Helene Hanff of New York and Messrs Marks and Co, sellers of rare and secondhand books, at 84 Charing Cross Road, London. For twenty years this outspoken New York writer and Frank Doel, a rather more restrained London bookseller, carry on an increasingly touching correspondence to the point where, in early December, 1949, Helene is suddenly worried that the six-pound ham she's sent off to augment British rations will arrive in a kosher office.
Soon they are sharing more personal news about Frank's family and Hanff's career. No doubt their letters would have continued, but in 1969 the firm's secretary informed Helene 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.'
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140143505, 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 13:40:20 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

What started as a request for an out-of-print book evolved into a 20-year friendship between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York, and Frank Doel, a used-book dealer in London.

» see all 4 descriptions

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