84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Published by Penguin, 1990. Originally published: New York, Grossman, 1970
More at: Goodreads
"I houseclean my books every spring and throw out those I'm never going to read again like I throw out clothes I'm never going to wear again. It shocks everybody. My friends are peculiar about books. They read all the best sellers, they get through them as fast as possible, I think they skip a lot. And they NEVER read anything a second time so they don't remember a word of it a year later. But they are profoundly shocked to see me drop a book in the wastebasket or give it away. The way they look at it, you buy a book, you read it, you put in on the shelf, you never open it again for the rest of your life but YOU DON'T THROW IT OUT! NOT IF IT HAS A HARD COVER ON IT! Why not? I personally can't think of anything less sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book."
I am ill equipped to accurately convey my love for this slim volume, which is pretty much just a regrettably few handfuls of letters between the writer Helene Hanff and Frank Doel, an employee at Marks and Co., a bookshop in England. These letters tell of a wholly different sort of love affair, one about the love of books.
Let me first say that I've seen the movie 84, Charing Cross Road with Anne Bancroft as Helene Hanff countless times, and a long time before I ever read this book. But I loved the story then, and I love it even more so now- if that's even possible. Now, I can say that it is one of the very, very few movies that truly does a story justice.
Helene Hanff stumbled across an add for Marks & Co., a used book store in London and begins what will be a twenty year correspondence with the people in the shop, primarily Frank Doel. Her letters are her charismatic, funny requests for rare obscure English (and such) titles that she can't find locally or refuses to buy new. Her two decades of exchanges with Frank builds a unique friendship from across an ocean and portrays a love of books that anyone who loves literature can certain identify with. Helene understands the extreme emotions that a good, or awful book can elicit and how remarkably wonderful a life filled with them can be. Helene and Frank never meet.
It's a title that I sigh when I think about. Read it. You'll live with it forever.
"You'll be fascinated to learn (from me that hates novels) that I finally got round to Jane Austen and went out of my mind for Pride and Prejudice which I can't bring myself to take back to the library till you find me a copy of my own."