84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Pages – 230 pages
Genre – Memoir
This was one of my ventures into reading non-fiction and it was a success.
The book reminded me of how much friendship was highly valued years ago, how easily people trusted each other and how much human relations have degraded now.
The version of the book I read is actually made of 2 books written by the same author, Helene Hanff. The first book, 84 Charing Cross Road is a compilation of letters exchanged between a poor American script writer, Helene Hanff, and an English bookseller, Frank Doel who worked for a second hand bookshop, Marks & Co that was located on 84 Charing Cross Road, London. The letters cover a 20 year friendship, between 1949 to 1969, that blossomed year after year between Helene and Frank Doel. The friendship extended to the employees at the bookshop as it went from letters requesting for books to accounts of personal experiences and exchange of gifts.
It was a delight to read and follow the friendships as they blossomed. All the while i read the book, I couldn’t help but reflect on how things are the complete opposite now. Then Helene would owe the bookshop money and promise to pay them, they in return would send her books, trusting that she would keep her word and all this was done across continents! In this present day people can’t do the same with people that live in the same town as them!
Written communications – letters and postcards are slowly becoming a thing of the past and people are getting less interested in Classic and Collected works. Unfortunately, I am guilty of this. The last letter I recall writing was to my cousin when I was in my teens. I would write them and give them to his mum who would help me deliver them. I can’t blame myself though, so many other forms of communication have come up since then and it’s hard to do things the old way when there are easier and better ways of doing them now. As for reading classic works, I’m slowly getting myself to enjoy them but I must confess that the diction and language used for some of them are hard to understand and not encouraging at all.
My only sad moment in the book was that Helene and Frank never got to meet. She was never able to save enough to visit and when she did, something would come up and she would cancel her trip. Things continued this way until eventually, Frank died.
The second book, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is the story of how Helene eventually manages to travel to London for the first time after the success of her book, 84 Charing Cross Road. Whilst there she is able to meet Frank’s family – his widow and two daughters, visit 84 Charing Cross Road even though the book shop had been closed for years, visit places she had read of, meet some of the people who were touched by her book and make new friends.
I didn’t quite enjoy this book as much as 84 Charing Cross Road but it was good. It is written in the same format as 84 Charing Cross Road, dated letters and notes from her diary. I struggled to finish the book but was glad I read it.
The funny thing is that I haven’t visited 84 Charing Cross Road myself. I was at Charing Cross a few days ago and it crossed my mind to stop and check what was standing there now but it was late and I didn’t have the time. I will have to plan to do that someday and probably write a post on what I discovered.
I would recommend these books to people who enjoy reading and book lovers as it is a book about books 🙂
Thanks for reading.