Wednesday, March 4, 2009

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

If I had to pick the quintessential "library book", 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff would be it. I'm not going to talk about the plot because everyone has seen the movie, except to say it's the real life correspondence of a NY writer with the purchasing agent of a London bookshop, Marks & Co.

Reason one: 84, Charing Cross Road is about books (though lots of books are) and a person to whom a library was more like a university than a Blockbuster (click here to read the book to which she attributes her education). Helene Hanff wrote, among other things, books that ended up in libraries (BHPL still has her 1969 children's biography of Queen Elizabeth I). But Hanff doesn't get too lovey-dovey about the library: in The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street she is exasperated by a person suggesting that she go to the British Museum's reading room. She had enough of libraries in New York. She'd rather see the places that her favorite writers lived.

Reason two: Try reading 84, Charing Cross Road in paperback once you've read a library copy, a yellowed 1970s hardcover covered in mylar, with its wonderful Monticello font. Helene Hanff only bought books if she had already read and liked them. So you know she'd approve of you checking her book out from the library.

The book group is discussing 84, Charing Cross Road and its sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, on Friday, March 6 at 10:30 a.m. Marilyn from the book group found a great site devoted to the people and history of Marks & Co.

Helene Hanff's obituary in the New York Times has some short, funny passages from the book.

Helene Hanff's second apartment in New York (the one that prevents her trip to London) is now an apartment building called Charing Cross House. It's on 72nd Street between First and Second Avenues.


Anonymous said...

I was perfectly enchanted by "84 Charing Cross Road", the book of correspondence between Helene Hanff and Frank Doel of Marks & Co., Booksellers publhsed in 1970.

I have recently checked out from the Library, the bestseller Ficton, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Annie Barrows and published in 2008 by Dial Press.

Have you any thoughts regarding the similarity of the two?

Ellen said...

I've read both and agree that they're similar. 84, Charing Cross Road is probably on every library's "read-alike" list for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. They're both set after the war, have a charming independent female protagonist who loves books, and are written in the form of letters.