Sunday, June 20, 2010

84, Charing Cross Road

Happy Father's Day!

While I was eating breakfast yesterday morning my father came home from the library, and said he'd bought me a book (not from the library, of course, but there's a bookshop in between). He bought me a book the day before, too, and at this point every time he says he's bought me a book I say, "Oh, dear." Both books were thoroughly welcome, though. Evelyn Waugh's Put Out More Flags, which I've been vaguely meaning to read, and Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road, which I've already read, but really ought to own.

And then I sat down and read it again. It's only 97 pages, but it took a while and I didn't mean to and I was supposed to be showering and getting on with the day. It was, however, thoroughly enjoyable.

I tend to think of 84, Charing Cross Road as a novel, as fiction, but of course it isn't. It's a collection of letters between Helene Hanff, a writer living in New York with a taste for out of print books which can't be found affordably any where in New York, and Frank Doel, employee of the Marks and Co. Bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road, London, where Helene's desired books can be bought. Also making appearance are other employees of the bookshop, Frank Doel's wife, and his next door neighbour. The correspondence spans twenty years, beginning in 1949. Helene sends packages of food to the shop during the post-war rationing, they sometimes send her Christmas presents, and she often berates them for failing to find the books she wants in a timely fashion. The letters are bookish, warm, and lovely, Helene's entertainingly blunt as she tries to force Frank out of his stubborn polite Englishness. Ultimately, the story these letters tell is a mild, everyday sort of tragedy, of the sort one's childish instinctive sense of fairness gets woken up for. Despite that, it's still an enormously comforting book, one that makes you wistful for something you never experienced. It's so perfect it's hard to remember it's not fiction.

Another book to count for the Bibliophilic Books Challenge, as well, which I didn't think of until just now. I seem to be reading them all at once (I read Parnassus on Wheels not realizing that counted, too).

I hereby count 84, Charing Cross Road among the books you must read. I intend to start foisting it upon unsuspecting friends as soon as possible.


Thomas at My Porch said...

This is a book I buy pretty much everytime I see a used copy. That way I can share. I have red it at least twice and have seen the movie about 6 times. Love it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I loved this book. I agree with Thomas: buy often, bestow liberally.


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