84, Charing Cross Road
by Helene Hanff
Published: Penguin Books
Source: personal copy
From the back cover:
This charming classic, first published in 1970, brings together twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, a free-lance 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 relationship, captured so accurately in these letters, is one that will grab your heart and not let go.
Firstly I have to announce discontent - that is the wrong cover for me. I can't find a decent version of the cover I do have online and I can't seem to take one myself. Sigh.
Secondly, based simply on reading the letters in the book, I really wonder what Helene Hanff would have thought of being called winsome and sentimental. I rather think that would have elicited some blue language from her. I would have chosen heart-felt and empathetic or something. The letters here provide an intimate glimpse of a window in time, 1949 - 1969, that was important historically both in the US and the UK, and also quite different from the modern world. I was swallowed whole by the book and it actually brought tears to my eyes at the end.
I have been to London twice, but didn't know about Marks and Co. or this book at the time (I performed pilgrimages to other sites like the Tower of London in the short amount of free time I had - I was there for a conference). When I get back there (and I desperately want to) I will have to go visit the commemorative plaque.
I ordered a copy of The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, written in 1973 after Hanff finally got to visit London, immediately after finishing, and now have a whole host of things that I want to read more about. Five claws for a surprising amount emotional depth packed into a tiny space.