Monday, August 9, 2010

Review: 84, Charing Cross Road

I had heard so much about this book before reading it. This is one of those classic texts that all bibliophiles seem to read and adore, so I was thoroughly looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I was not as smitten as most readers seem to be. This slim volume chronicles the correspondence between New Yorker Hanff and the staff of an antiquarian bookstore in London. The entirety of the text is letters, as Hanff cultivates a relationship with the shop's staff, a relationship built entirely on transatlantic correspondence. The second part of the book is comprised of Hanff's memoirs of the trip she was finally able to take to London, sadly after the bookstore, Marks and Co. had closed, and after her primary correspondent had died. Certainly the the letters between Hanff and her primary correspondent, Frank Doel, are touching. The two developed quite a friendship. In the privations of the post-war London of the late-1940s and early 1950s, Hanff sent repeated care packages to the bookstore's staff, providing things completely unavailable in the United Kingdom- basics like eggs (real and powdered), oranges, and women's stockings. It return, Doel and his store provided Hanff with quite a reading list- even the most ardent of bibliophiles will likely be wowed by the density and depth of Hanff's reading list. Those elements aside, I preferred Hanff's memoirs of her time in London to the letters. I drank up her descriptions of the places, though I found it difficult to get interested in the people. In sum, while I found this book charming, it was not the amazing experience I was expecting. Bibliophiles will surely want to read it, but I'm not sure a general audience would find it engaging. In writing this, I feel like a bad voracious reader. I've missed something that makes this book a tremendous experience of other book lovers.

Helene Hanff, 84, Charing Cross Road (Penguin, 1990, reprint) ISBN: 0140143505

1 comment:

nathaliefoy said...

I think that you had a bad edition, not a bad response. 84 Charing Cross Road is the first half of the book you read. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street was published separately, but appears to be the second half of the edition you read. I love 84 Charing Cross road, but did not have a lot of time for Duchess. I have a blog devoted to books about books.
My reviews are here: