84, Charing Cross Road

Hanff, Helen. 84, Charing Cross Road. Recorded Books, Inc., 1993. Audio cassette.

My first audio book of the training season! I have to start off with a confession. I didn’t expect 84, Charing Cross Road to be so funny. I don’t know if it’s the actual story or the way the actress reads it. Maybe it was the combination of both. I had some real laugh-out-loud moments.

The year is 1949. Helene Hanff is a Jewish writer who prefers to mail order books from Marks And Company, Booksellers, a small book shop in London, England instead of frequenting a bookstore just blocks away from her one room apartment in New York City. She doesn’t explain how she came to find this particular shop nor what first prompted her to write to them specifically, but what follows is a series of letters written between Ms. Hanff and different employees of the shop, the most notable recipient being Mr. Frank Doel. In her letters Ms. Hanff comes across as a sassy, brash, and sometimes demanding American while Mr. Doel’s British replies are decidedly courteous if not stuffy (otherwise known as prim and proper). Over time Hanff wins Doel over with her sarcastic wit and he “loosens up” little by little. So begins a 20 year love affair between book lovers. Hanff also writes others in the shop as well as their families. She generously sends post-war gifts of food and clothing (items rationed at that time) that win over the entire shop. While the book is short (just 84 pages long or two hours of audio) you are drawn into Hanff’s relationship with the employees of the book shop. You end up hoping she takes that trip across the pond to meet them.

Book Trivia: 84 Charing Cross Road was made into a movie and a play.

Author fact: Helene Hanff died of diabetes when she was 80 years old.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Journals and Letters: We Are All Voyeurs at Heart” (p 131).

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