Sunday, April 27, 2014

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road  
by Helene Hanff

Published: Penguin Books
Format: paperback
Copyright: 1970
Pages: 97
Genre: Biography
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.


  1. Couldn't agree more. I visited the commemorative plaque when I was in London the last time, and felt sad that the bookshop wasn't still there. But there are at least still plenty of bookstores down Charing Cross Road. I always buy masses of books at the Foyles there, and at Henry Pordes.

    1. I wish I had read the book sooner. Good grief - looking at the map now I see that I managed to go right past it the first time I was in London at least twice! I wonder if I read it in passing and don't remember because I didn't know what it was about. I wanted to go on a book binge sooooo badly, but I wanted to go museum hopping even more, so I didn't even darken the door of a bookstore. Due to the weird hours I had to play hooky from my conference to do much of anything. I absolutely loved the food at the Cafe in the Crypt in St Martin-in-the-Fields Church - I still dream of their bread pudding with brandy sauce. Yum!

  2. Hopping over from the Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

    It's been a long time since I read this book, but it definitely added to my love of London (a place I hope to visit this year).

    This would be a great post to link up to British Isles Friday on my blog today.


Hi! I do read all of the comments and want to let you know that I really appreciate your stopping by and taking the time to leave a note. Work has fallen in on me and I have not had enough time to reply coherently lately so I apologize preemptively but still want to assure you that your comments are valued. I am using comment moderation to avoid using more annoying spam avoidance. Thanks for your patience.