84, Charing Cross Road

by Helene Hanff

Paperback, 1987

Status

Available

Publication

Avon Books (1987), 97 pages

Description

Correspondence between Helene Hanff and agents of Marks & Co., chiefly Frank Doel.

Media reviews

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

User reviews

LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Two surprises with this book, firstly I had no idea what a small book this is, and secondly, and more importantly, I didn’t realize how charmed I would be by it.

84, Charing Cross Road is simply a bundle of letters, correspondence by the author in America and the staff of an English book store that she orders from. At first the letters are quite business-like, the placing of orders, the explanation of the monetary difference, but as time goes on, these people develop close relationships and lasting friendships.

I was reminded a little of our experience here on Library Thing, we join with the purpose of cataloguing our books, eventually discovering the talk threads. We start off tentatively with a comment here and there, and before we know it, we have developed relationships and close friendships, all without meeting face-to-face.

If you have a love of books, a love of gentle humor and a high regard for the human race, I am sure you would love this book. A perfect little gem and for me, a five star reading experience.
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LibraryThing member AnnieMod
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.
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LibraryThing member LiterateHousewife
84, Charing Cross Road has to be one of the most charming books I’ve read in a long time. It also showed me how I assume almost everything I read is fiction. It took me about a quarter of the book to think: “The American has the same name as the author.” This book is a compilation of actual letters written between Helene, a starving American writer who loves high quality (read not American) used books, and the staff of the Marks & Co., Booksellers at 84, Charing Cross Road in London, England. While a majority of the correspondence is between Helene and Frank Doel, a couple of his co-workers write to her on the sly. Eventually, even his wife end up writing to Helene. This relationship spans 40 years and is a testament to the friendships that can be made through the love of books.

This book, at just a scant 97 pages, was a quick read. I bought it around lunch time on a Saturday afternoon and had it finished before dinner - including time out for the family. I loved the life and humor in the letters. I loved the distinction between American ways of communicating and the more traditional and formal British. Helene’s constant good-natured ribbing of Frank was so delightful. Clearly Helene takes after my Dad’s family – they only tease the people they like. The best example occurs after Frank inquires as to whether Helene would like him to send her a particular volume. He was inclined to ask because she is on a tight budget, doesn't much care for first editions, and she hadn’t previously requested it. Here is Helene’s response:

he has a first edition of Newman's University for six bucks, do i want it, he asks innocently.

Dear Frank:

Yes, I want it. I won't be fit to live with myself. I've never cared about first editions per se, but a first edition of THAT book --!

oh my.

i can just see it.

As with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this book highlighted the lost art of letters. Just because we can now almost instantaneously communicate with nearly everyone around the world whenever we want to, it doesn’t mean that we haven’t lost something. Today, I can email, text, or leave a comment on Facebook 24/7. Because it takes so little effort, there is something lacking. When all communication took days and weeks to arrive, I think people were more attentive to what they wrote. They put more of themselves into the process. I don’t need to take the time to be sure I’ve included everything anymore because following up is just another click away. Don’t get me wrong, I love to receive emails, etc. I always will. They will never, however, replace a hand written or even typed letter.

I cannot say enough about 84, Charing Cross Road. I so appreciate that Helene and the staff at Marks & Co. consented to publishing the letters. As with The Uncommon Reader, this book is a tribute to readers everywhere. Although these letters began shortly after the end of World War II, the love of books and the kinship between book lovers is universal and timeless. This book is a treasure worthy of owning and reading repeatedly.
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LibraryThing member bell7
In 1949, scriptwriter Helene Hanff chanced upon an advertisement for a used bookstore in London. Thinking that she might be able to find some out-of-print books that she was interested in for a decent price, she wrote a letter asking for some particular books she was interested in. What follows is a long correspondence between Helene and "FPD," one of the workers at Marks & Co., the bookstore located at 84, Charing Cross Road.

I have now read this book twice; it was a favorite read last year that I ended up purchasing because I loved it so. Helene's sense of humor is fabulous, and I loved her descriptions of her beloved books as well as the friendship that develops over the course of these letters. An absolute must read for book lovers.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
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.
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LibraryThing member -Cee-
Small book - huge impact! This is an excellent read. It’s witty, amusing, poignant, heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Letters from 1949 to 1969 exchanged between an American writer and a bookshop in London allow a glimpse into post-war lifestyles and increasingly warm friendships. The common links are love of literature and a positive view of life on both sides of the Atlantic.

I generally don’t re-read books. But, now that I have read through this book once for pure enjoyment, I definitely want to do it again. There is more meat on the bones to pick through.

Do not hesitate about this one. It will add more to your life than it will take away in time. Very solid four stars.
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LibraryThing member Copperskye
Would it be odd to describe a book as being adorable? 84, Charing Cross Road is a collection of actual letters written, beginning in 1949, between a New York book lover and the staff of a London rare book shop. It is a sweet, charming and touching read. I feel as if I know the letter-writers. Anyone who enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (and I absolutely did) will be sure to enjoy this one as well. If you’re not a fan of that book but enjoy the epistolary style, try this book instead – it’s much better. Mourning the lost art of letter writing and sad that it wasn’t longer, I’m already looking forward to a reread.… (more)
LibraryThing member MrsLee
What a delightful, intimate book! I savored every page and will be reading it again, I know. It is so lovely to be able to share the book love through the correspondence of the author and her bookseller/friend. The author's humor is sharp and fun, and the books mentioned are a great reading list. I laughed and teared up and generally felt right at home in the pages.… (more)
LibraryThing member Oreillynsf
If there was ever proof that words can connect people, this book is it. The story is excellent, the history so human, but it's the words in these letters that really make this book special. Words turn a set of business transactions into the most wonderfully human of stories.
LibraryThing member mickmckeown
Take an hour out of your day and read this book. It is one of the touching works of a by gone era. In a time before Facebook, Myspace and even email you can enter the world of Helene Hanff and Frank Doel. She is a struggling New York writer and he is a London Bookseller. The long distance correspondence between these two is timeless. It is a true friendship that began with a book. The letters and love bring you back to Britain and Broadway of the late 1940s to the end of the 1960s. I highly reccommend this time capsule of a book.… (more)
LibraryThing member varwenea
This book is like crack, people! As in highly addictive, can’t put it down. Good thing it’s a small book. :P Very amusing, heart-warming, simply touching, and genuine – well, they are real letters. Even though my heart sank more and more as the pages flowed with Helene nowhere closer to visiting England, I had hoped that would be the ending. Instead, sigh… well, you should read for yourself.

This book consists of letters that ran a full 20 years, from Oct 1949 to Oct 1969, chronicling Helene Hanff’s perennial search of beautifully made English literature books via the Marks & Co Bookseller that specializes in antiquarian, out-of-print, books. Her letters are received and replied by the store’s chief buyer, Frank Doel. Her humorous letters, especially the passages in all caps, drew the attention of the staff. When Helene learned England were still under rations in the early 1950’s recovering from WWII, she generously gifted baskets of food to the 6 people staff, winning the hearts of everyone. While she had hoped to visit England, lack of funds and rigors of life kept her from doing so – at least as covered by this book. (She does go in 1971.)

First off, well done to the editors for paring down clearly many more letters in between. Those that are included painted a clear picture of Helene’s direct and vocal personality but her care, concern, and best of all, humor, never left the pages. Meanwhile, Frank started out stoic (and professional) softens up to her warmth. This book is often recognized as amongst best reads for a book set in bookstores. I think it’s simply charming, bookstore or not. Any book lover would appreciate Helene’s book passion. Why is it not a 5-star? Well, it is still simply written, without wow factors, despite the appeal.

Some quotes:

On used books – as I buy almost exclusively used books, I was amused by these:
“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.”
And
“I wish you hadn’t been so over-courteous about putting the inscription on a card instead of on the flyleaf. It’s the bookseller coming out in you all, you were afraid you’d decrease its value. You would have increased it for the present owner. (And possibly for the future owner. I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages some else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.)”
And
“…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.”

On treatment of books – I Lol’d. I know someone who would have said similar:
“WELL!!! All I have to say to YOU, Frank Doel, is we live in depraved, destructive and degenerate times when a bookshop – a BOOKSHOP – starts tearing up beautiful old books to use as wrapping paper…”

On beautiful books – I too have such guilty feeling with beautiful books as I write too much in my books:
“The Newman arrived almost a week ago and I’m just beginning to recover. I keep it on the table with me all day, every now and then I stop typing and reach over and touch it. Not because it’s a first edition; I just never saw a book so beautiful. I feel vaguely guilty about owning it. All that gleaming leather and gold stamping and beautiful type belongs in the pine-panelled library of an English country home; it wants to be ready by the fire in a gentleman’s leather easy chair – not on a secondhand studio couch in a one-room hovel in a broken-down brownstone front.”

On the problem with library books:
“So I can’t buy any books but back in October somebody introduced me to Louis the Duke de Saint-Simon in a miserable abridgement, and I tore around to the Society Library where they let you roam the stacks and lug everything home, and got the real thing. Have been wallowing in Louis ever since. The edition I’m reading is in six volumes and halfway through Vol. VI last night I realized I could not support the notion that when I take it back I will have no Louis in the house.”

On the journeys that books take you:
“I take time out from housecleaning my bookshelves and sitting on the rug surrounded by books in every direction… maybe it’s just as well I never got there. I dreamed about it for so many years. I used to go to English movies just to look at the streets. I remember years ago a guy I knew told me that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for. I said I’d go looking for the England of English literature, and he nodded and said: ‘It’s there.’ Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. Looking around the rug one thing’s for sure: it’s here.”
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LibraryThing member adzebill
Every time I read this book I cry. Also when I actually went to 84 Charing Cross Road and found it was a Pizza Hut I just about cried too.
LibraryThing member PensiveCat
Correspondence between a scriptreader/writer and a bookseller, covering twenty years. It is a love story, but really the love is for books. Excellent for Bibliophiles and Anglophiles.
LibraryThing member elenchus
Read aloud in bed, taking turns, like we did for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. We devoured it, and in addition to being a pleasure to read, it didn't leave crumbs. We will continue with Hanff's two other volumes, and may have to branch into Q's own books, as they seem to have been such an inspiration to her.

We'd seen the film before we read the book, not the usual sequence for me, but I honestly don't know if I'd be as emotionally affected if I'd come to the book first. The second half jumps at times two years or more between letters, which softens the immediacy of Hanff's relationship to Doel and the other booksellers a bit. And the film did quite well in adapting some of the best bits of Hanff's prose, I remembered several selections. I imagine the screenplay was itself adapted (at least in part) from the stage play, which may account for this. In any case, both film and book are beloved by both of us.
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LibraryThing member ardeahp
Helen, witty, acerbic and kind stumbles across a bookshop in England where she can buy coveted volumes for low, low prices by post. She also stumbles across a friendship with the reserved Frank whose letters slowly warm (a little) to her humour and openness. 84 Charing Cross Road gives us a glimpse of life in post-war (WWII) England and USA while reminding us that human connections are the important things in life, although books rate pretty high too.… (more)
LibraryThing member Ambrosia4
The one word I can succinctly use to describe this book is: "charming". This word is trite and overused for such an uncommonly sweet, funny, and at times sad book, but there is no better word for it, I must say.

I have always loved correspondence books, or other such uncommon book styles, but what made this even funnier or sadder was the knowledge the entire reading that it was real. Helene actually sat down in 1952 and wrote that letter and Nora sat down and wrote back.

It ends so abruptly that, like Helene probably felt, the reader is left bereft of the companionship that the book had provided for the last 90 or so pages. While this may seem like a very short time to become so enamoured of a book, I'd like to see you try and read it without becoming so enraptured of these people (that you can't just call realistic, because they are in fact real) that at the end you are sad. In an hour you book so wholly immersed that you forget that this all happened between 40 and 70 years ago.

Yes, I did cry a bit at the end. Don't laugh. It's only a natural response. And of course, more than that, I laughed aloud throughout the entire rest of the book. And I must say, I would love to receive correspondence from Helene Hanff!
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LibraryThing member ddailey
I got this as a Valentine for M'Hunny. We both found it a delightful, light , quick read. A cascading series of incongruous but real characters drawn in their own image -- as the book is a series of letters. Hanff' casts her love of Latin literature and 18th century essays humorously against her wage slave writing of TV drama.… (more)
LibraryThing member armbrusm
Loved, loved, loved this book. A slim collection of letters, 84 Charing Cross Road is a delightful window into post-war Britain, British literary culture, and the power of the written word to transcend boundaries. Hanff's voice comes through so strongly in her letters, it's easy to see how the book dealers she corresponded with were charmed. I was charmed myself, and look forward to reading more of her books.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jebbie74
This is my most favourite book ever. Kind of makes me sound like a child, but there really is no other way to put it. I have a copy in my Personal Libraray that I loan out to friends who seem interested, just to ensure that people continue talking about it as if it was a brand new piece of fiction.
LibraryThing member lycomayflower
Just sort of absolutely delightful. An hour's read, or so, in which I laughed out loud two or three times. A neat little glimpse into lives which prompts me to fill in details about the characters we get only in snippets from their letters.
LibraryThing member richardderus
A book to love and treasure forever, a book about books and the people who love them more than anything else. Also a book about epistolary friendships that sets the bar for anyone else anywhere ever to jump over.
LibraryThing member Nickelini
This is a slight book, but it’s full of charm, humour and pathos.

Although I’d heard a lot about this book, two things took me by surprise. First, I was almost finished it when I realized that these were real letters and this wasn’t a novel (although it reads like one). And second, for some reason I thought there was a love story in it (and indeed, some reviewers refer to it as a romance). Maybe they meant a love of books, or friendship-type love. Anyway, I kept expecting Frank’s wife to die so the romance could start, but no, Helene was friends with her too, right to the end.

Recommended for: Booklovers, Anglophiles, and people who like books full of charm, humour and pathos.
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LibraryThing member bnbooklady
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and had been looking forward to it since many of you recommended it as similar to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The letters are simple and warm, and looking at the gaps in time between request and reply gives us a reminder of a time when the pace of life was slower. At only 97 pages (very few of which are filled with text), this is a charming little one-sitting read that is perfect for a cold winter evening. I’d recommend it for anyone who loves books and bookish people.
Read my full review at The Book Lady's Blog.
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LibraryThing member jillianmarie
I work in a second hand bookshop (I am the luckiest girl in the world!) and one of he great delights is finding books that people having been searching for. Even if it’s just stepping out the back and finding yet another copy of ‘The Kiterunner’ or whatever Richard and Judy’s book club are reading this week, there is nothing like that sense of satisfaction. I read this book years ago, watched the film and knew that my dream job would be working in a bookshop, the comedy series Black Books only cemented the fact and now I’m torn between the helpfulness expressed in Charing Cross Road and the daily struggle not to go ‘Bernard Black’ on customers who don’t put books back where they found them!… (more)
LibraryThing member LynnB
This is the second time I've read this book. It is a collection of letters between a New York author and a London bookseller, Frank Doel. Through an exchange of letter spanning 20 years, we get a glimpse of their shared love of books.

The letters are very short, and I'm impressed by how much we come to know about the lives of Helene and Frank -- and of Frank's family and co-workers -- from such short pieces of writing. But, I could actually picture the bookstore, Frank's home and Helene's apartment.

This is a "keeper".
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Language

Original publication date

1970

Physical description

97 p.; 6.93 inches

ISBN

0380001225 / 9780380001224

Local notes

Fiction
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