84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road

This charming classic, first published in 1970, brings together twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York City, and a used-book dealer in London. Through the years, though never meeting and separated both geographically and culturally, they share a winsome, sentimental friendship based on their common love for books. Their...

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Title:84, Charing Cross Road
Author:Helene Hanff
Rating:
Edition Language:English

84, Charing Cross Road Reviews

  • Trevor

    I love this book and love the film they made of it too. It is sloppy and sweet and warm and, you know, just right. It is the sort of book one could read in an hour or two over a pot of tea on a cold winter's afternoon and just enjoy. Pure delight.

    If you needed to be reminded that love of literature is as good a foundation of love of the world as any other 'religion', that the people we write to can be closer and dearer to us than those we see day after day - then this really is a book written to

    I love this book and love the film they made of it too. It is sloppy and sweet and warm and, you know, just right. It is the sort of book one could read in an hour or two over a pot of tea on a cold winter's afternoon and just enjoy. Pure delight.

    If you needed to be reminded that love of literature is as good a foundation of love of the world as any other 'religion', that the people we write to can be closer and dearer to us than those we see day after day - then this really is a book written to remind you of just that.

  • Jeanette

    This was my second reading of the book, and I'm adding a star to my original rating. I laughed a lot harder this time, and even got a little choked up near the end. I don't recall this much chortling, cackling, guffawing and snorting on my first time through. The contrast between Helene Hanff's brash American informality and Frank Doel's staid British professionalism is delightful. There's a certain charm in his

    This was my second reading of the book, and I'm adding a star to my original rating. I laughed a lot harder this time, and even got a little choked up near the end. I don't recall this much chortling, cackling, guffawing and snorting on my first time through. The contrast between Helene Hanff's brash American informality and Frank Doel's staid British professionalism is delightful. There's a certain charm in his politeness, while at the same time one wonders how long it will take for him to loosen up. His first letter to Helene begins

    , to which she replies:

    Her humor and generosity did slowly erode his reserve, but it took years. As she put it:

    Outrageous they are, and charmingly witty.

    I remember when e-mail first started to take hold in the early 1990s. I was working for a professor who mentioned to me that it was ahistorical. We would henceforth have no permanent record of most of our written communication. His comments stayed in my mind while I happily made the switch from snail mail to electronic. Re-reading this little treasury of collected letters made me think perhaps we've lost more than just an outdated form of contact.

  • Angela M

    Letters, literature, friendships, kindness and humor fill the pages of this small volume. It's a gift from Helene Hanff to anyone who loves books. Not much more I can say except that all book lovers should read it .

    Long distance friendships and books - a lot like Goodreads .

  • Glenn Sumi

    After hearing about this book for years, I finally stumbled upon a $2 ex-libris copy earlier this week at a used book sale. And without pausing I bought it. How appropriate!

    It consists of the correspondence, from the late 1940s until the late 1960s, between New York writer and bibliophile Helene Hanff and Frank Doel, an employee at Marks & Co. Booksellers at the eponymous address in London.

    Hanff was a voracious, eclectic reader who couldn’t find good American editions of the books she

    After hearing about this book for years, I finally stumbled upon a $2 ex-libris copy earlier this week at a used book sale. And without pausing I bought it. How appropriate!

    It consists of the correspondence, from the late 1940s until the late 1960s, between New York writer and bibliophile Helene Hanff and Frank Doel, an employee at Marks & Co. Booksellers at the eponymous address in London.

    Hanff was a voracious, eclectic reader who couldn’t find good American editions of the books she wanted to read. Responding to an advertisement in a periodical, she wrote to Marks & Co., and began her two decades-long epistolary relationship with Doel.

    Her chatty, witty and often teasing letters requesting books and Frank’s more conservative, straightlaced missives form the backbone of the work. As their long-distance, customer-bookseller relationship evolves, Hanff occasionally writes to other store employees, as well as Doel’s wife, the couple’s daughters and the family’s elderly neighbour.

    What gradually emerges is a gentle and moving look at two kindred spirits united by their love of the printed word. Hanff’s descriptions of the physical books are so vivid I can practically smell and feel the sturdy covers and the thick, creamy pages. The book also touches on their differing cultures, Hanff’s writing characterized by frank forthrightness, Doel’s, although no less friendly, by a certain civility and politeness.

    Their correspondence isn’t just about books, although there are some amusing, illuminating passages about Chaucer, Samuel Pepys, Jane Austen, John Donne and Laurence Sterne. Early on, Hanff also sends care packages of food and stockings to the bookstore, much-needed in a time of post-World War II rationing.

    And there are subtle glimpses into history and the changing nature of society: bookstore employees emigrate to other countries to try their luck; the Doels save up money to buy their first used car; Queen Elizabeth II is crowned; Beatlemania descends on London.

    But what I love most of all is the portrait that emerges of Hanff herself. A strong and independent single woman who would rather send cash in the mail than fuss with getting a money order, she starts out living in a tiny, cramped apartment and works her way up the publishing and radio drama worlds, drawing on much of her reading of literature (thanks to the packages from 84, Charing Cross Road) to create her plays.

    What I also admire is how uncluttered this book is. There were other letters, but Hanff trusts the reader to do the work to connect the dots. By reading a “reply” we can intuit what’s being replied to. There are no baggy, self-important, italicized passages about what’s in the letters themselves. And the graceful ending is stunning in its understatement.

    One more thought: Hanff and Doel’s comments about books and literature remind me of the Goodreads community I’ve found here. I likely will never meet (IRL as they say) the people whose reviews and updates I like and comment on, but that doesn’t mean our interactions aren’t profound, meaningful and lasting.

    This is a book, for and about book lovers, to cherish.

  • Luffy

    The epistolary meanderings of Helene Hanff and Frank Dole are insightful, playful in their coyness, and progressive in their development. This is an actual correspondence gone awfully right.

    There is a starkness of honesty in this correspondence. Yet the prose in the letters aren't quite as dry as might be feared. Like I said, the back and forth is progressive. There is definitely life in these letters.

    This real occurrence happens after the second world war(the last three words of which is a

    The epistolary meanderings of Helene Hanff and Frank Dole are insightful, playful in their coyness, and progressive in their development. This is an actual correspondence gone awfully right.

    There is a starkness of honesty in this correspondence. Yet the prose in the letters aren't quite as dry as might be feared. Like I said, the back and forth is progressive. There is definitely life in these letters.

    This real occurrence happens after the second world war(the last three words of which is a favorite book of mine). The books that are being requested by Helene are not the point of this book. It's just that there is a fictional value in these exchanges. These people lived. I enjoyed this little book immensely, hence the rating.

  • Esil

    An easy 5 stars!

    I listened to this lovely short audiobook. It's completely charming. The voices are perfect. And in an odd way it reminded me of what I love about Goodreads. Strangers connecting over their mutual love of books. Slowly the book focused repartee morphs into a real sense of affinity and frienship.

    A bit of warmth to ease the dark cold days of November. A nice relief from the miserable state of world politics.

    I'm late to this party, but I highly recommend it -- especially the audio.

  • Olive

    I loved it SO MUCH.

  • Diane S ☔

    Loved every single page of this wonderful little novel, told in letters. The lost art of letter writing, but amazing how much we can tell of the relationship between the author in New York and a bookstore in London. Requesting books to be sent to her she makes the acquaintance of Frank Dole, his wife, his neighbor and other employees of the bookstore. Starts out as a purely business relationship we can tell letter by letter as they become more friendly, discussing their families, friends, jobs

    Loved every single page of this wonderful little novel, told in letters. The lost art of letter writing, but amazing how much we can tell of the relationship between the author in New York and a bookstore in London. Requesting books to be sent to her she makes the acquaintance of Frank Dole, his wife, his neighbor and other employees of the bookstore. Starts out as a purely business relationship we can tell letter by letter as they become more friendly, discussing their families, friends, jobs and other events going on in the world at the time, particularly the rationing that was still in place in London after the war.

    Made me want to go out and buy a brand new gorgeous stationary set and write my friends some letters. Wonderful, wonderful book.

  • Annet

    A beautiful, sincere and humorous correspondence between a writer in New York (Helen) looking for unique books all the time and having them shipped over from Europe and a bookstore manager in London over the years.... Fun, nostalgic read with a smile.

  • Brina

    As a child, I loved writing to pen pals. Anywhere I went that offered a chance to sign up to be a pen pal, I did with earnest. None of the pen pals ended up amounting to much, but it was thrilling to receive letters from them in the mail. I come from a line of pen pal writers as my mother wrote to an English girl her age for her entire childhood and teenaged years. It is not surprising then, that I one of the first books I reviewed on goodreads was

    As a child, I loved writing to pen pals. Anywhere I went that offered a chance to sign up to be a pen pal, I did with earnest. None of the pen pals ended up amounting to much, but it was thrilling to receive letters from them in the mail. I come from a line of pen pal writers as my mother wrote to an English girl her age for her entire childhood and teenaged years. It is not surprising then, that I one of the first books I reviewed on goodreads was

    by

    , where Brooks details her own experiences with pen pals, one that eventually lead her to move to the United States and a career in writing. It comes of less of a surprise that I would be lead to

    , a short book of correspondence by former television writer

    . A proclaimed Anglophile who wrote to employees of the Marks and Company Book Shop in London over a twenty year period, Hanff published her letters in book form as a gift to future readers and letter writers.

    Helene Hanff is enamored by out of print, hard to find British literature. The only location close to her where she is able to obtain any just to look at is at the main branch of the New York City Public Library. Yet, that library is 50 blocks from her home and most of the time she is unable to bring the books she finds back to her apartment. The books she can read are new and do not have a history behind them. By chance, Hanff's upstairs neighbors are British, and they give her the name of Marks and Co. Starting in 1949, Hanff begins writing to Marks' employees requesting new or slightly used second hand copies of all things British, everything from Chaucer to Austen and all rare books in between. While Hanff has got to pay for the air mail and shipping fees, she is happy to do so as it opens a new world of books to her. What started as an enquiry becomes a twenty year correspondence with employees at the shop.

    The main pen pal Hanff wrote to was an employee named Frank Doel. In time, she also wrote to his wife and neighbor as well as other employees at Marks and Company. At first they referred to each other by names of ma'am and sir, but gradually they grew to use familiar names Helene and Frank. Engaging in intelligent conversations about books and about their lives, Hanff became emotionally invested in the lives of the Marks and Company family. Each year she would send the staff gifts of hard to find rationed items as meats, eggs, sugar, and nylon stockings. For this, they were forever grateful, going out of their way to send Hanff any book she requested, even an extremely rare copy of the Complete Works of John Donne. While money did not allow her to travel, Hanff had an open invitation to visit London and stay as a guest of any of the shop employees. What had started as a simple letter morphed into a lifelong friendship.

    The correspondence that Helene Hanff engaged in seemed as a precursor to goodreads as she discussed books with otherwise strangers on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Finding like minded readers from all over the world is one of the things I enjoy the most about goodreads, so I was drawn to Hanff and her quest to obtain British literature. Even though she was unable to visit London, Hanff's sincere writing left me with a smile as I envisioned her thrill of opening the letters and packages that emerged from a simple correspondence. With the majority of correspondence now done electronically, letter writing has become a lost art. Hanff's letters to Doel took me back to a simpler time, and that their relationship centered on books was only an added bonus.

    4+ stars

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