Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road [1970]

Who could fail to be charmed by the wit and warmth of Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road? Hanff reproduces in the book (with some excisions) her correspondence with the staff of Marks & Co., Booksellers, most notably Frank Doel, who was chiefly responsible for sending her books she requested over the course of nearly twenty years. In return, she sent both teasing, sometimes outrageous responses ("this is not pepys' diary, this is some busybody editor's miserable collection of EXCERPTS from pepys' diary may he rot") and supplemental food for the book shop's staff, a luxury in post-war England. The letters are humorous, educated, and vibrant, and it is heartening to watch them grow from simple business transactions to signs of genuine friendship between Hanff and various employees of Marks & Co. The only downside: not enough letters, even in the "Deluxe Gift Edition." Seriously, it only took me about 45 minutes to read.

Grade: A-

Random Thoughts:

In her memoir The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, Hanff finally visits England and sees the sites she's always read about--alas, after the shop has closed. I've added it to my list.

Also, "epistolary" is a cool word.

Also also, people who liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society should probably read this.

1 comment:

Cassandra Mortmain said...

I've so far read, in order of quality:

- Underfoot in Show Business (H. Hanff's first book about her time attempting to be a playwright in NY in the 50s. It's AWESOME)

- Q's Legacy (the story of how H. Hanff become the weirdo antique book nerd we all love)

- The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (still adorable, still H. to the core, and obviously a must read because YOU NEED TO KNOW HOW IT WORKS OUT. But it lacks the spontaneity of Underfoot and 84-- as does Q's Legacy. But any time spent with Helene is good time)