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84, Charing Cross Road Paperback – October 1, 1990
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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."
A real-life love story . . . A timeless period piece. Do read it * WALL STREET JOURNAL * Unmitigated delight from cover to cover * DAILY TELEGRAPH * A must for anyone who reads - the correspondence between book lover Helen Hanff and Messers Marks & Cross of Charing Cross Road has been reissued. * Daily Express * A lovely new edition of this classic title * Good Book Guide * --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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These letters reveal two people who shared a similar sense of humor and a passion for old books. Ms. Hanff had a particular fondness for antiquarian books filled with wisdom - the works of John Donne, Samuel Pepys, Newman, Leigh Hunt, Walter Savage Landor, and many others. Despite making little money, Hanff develops such a fondness for the people running the bookshop that she sends them food parcels when she discovers England is being subjected to food rationing in the post-war period.
My love for this story is not only because it is about a love of books, but also because it harkens back to a time when people actually took pains to correspond with each other (not that they had a choice), an art that is slowly dying out (I try my best to keep it alive by penning long letters to my parents who live on a different continent and who are blissfully oblivious to the wonders of e-mailing and social networking).
84, Charing Cross Road resonates with me on so many levels, and is the perfect read on days when I'd like to just slow down and savor the pleasure of curling up with a light read. The movie adaptation starring Anne Bancroft and Sir Anthony Hopkins is another delight that perfectly captures the essence of the book. Also recommended: