Retro Friday: 84, Charing Cross Road

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I haven’t done a Retro Friday in the past couple of weeks and thought it would be a good idea to feature this book. I wouldn’t have found out about 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff if my good friend Michelle didn’t review it recently. I’m glad she decided to review it because it would’ve been a shame to miss this charming little book.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

84, Charing Cross Road is a very absorbing, quick read. I wasn’t planning to read the whole thing and just wanted to see the first few pages but then it sucked me in. Since it’s a slim novel, I knew it would only take one sitting for me to finish it so I went ahead and did just that. This a non-fiction book that focuses on the correspondence of Helene, a writer in New York and Frank, a book seller in London. A friendship that spans years develops between the two through their letters. At first, Helene only wrote to Frank but eventually she exchanges letters with his co-workers and even his wife. Helene is hilarious and it was fun to read about a non-fiction book for a change. I was afraid that I wouldn’t like Helene because I’m not even familiar with the books that she buys but I could really relate when she goes WHERE ARE MY BOOKS? I HAVE NOTHING TO READ NOW! I think all of us have felt like that at one point or another. Also, I found it funny when she said that she can order books from the convenience of her typewriter so she doesn’t bother going to bookstores anymore. Oh Helene, I wonder what you’ll think of online bookstores now. It’s so much easier to order books from sites that have free worldwide shipping.

I believe that this book is something that every book lover would appreciate. It’s a wonderful example of how friendships form even when people are thousands of kilometers apart just because they share one common thing that I’m sure we can all understand: a love for books. ♥ It’s certainly something that I’ve experienced because I feel like I’ve gained so many book friends because of this blog and yet I’ve never met them in person. Snail mail letters have been replaced by emails, interaction through blog comments and Twitter. Like I said, it’s much more convenient with the technology that we have now but still very similar to Helene’s situation. Although I’m delighted whenever I get a postcard or a letter in the mail. I’m actually thinking of getting this set of Puffin postcards so I can send them out to bookish friends.

This book has made me curious about the 1987 movie version and I hope I can find a copy soon. I’m sure Anthony Hopkins did an excellent job in that role.

Other reviews:
See Michelle Read
Book Harbinger
Angieville

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13 thoughts on “Retro Friday: 84, Charing Cross Road

  1. Didn’t you love Helene? I admire her strong personality and how she’s not afraid to speak her mind.

    I like how you compared this to our times and how not much has changed, even with technology. More book bloggers definitely need to read this book. They would find kindred spirits in Helene and Frank. πŸ™‚

    • Yep, Helene is such a character! I think I couldn’t stop reading when I reached the part where she sent a Christmas package to the bookstore and sent a second note asking if she should rush a tongue over. πŸ˜€

      I didn’t want to say much about the book because it’s such a slim novel and I didn’t want to ruin the reading experience for others so I chose to focus on why I could relate to it.

  2. I’ve heard so much about this book. I love collecting books about books – I found a battered copy of this at Booksale over a year ago, but I still haven’t read it.

    Glad to know you enjoyed this. Another book I should bump up my TBR.

    • I browsed at some of the reviews on Goodreads and some people compared this with the Guernsey Literary book although that one is fiction. I know you enjoyed reading that book so I have a feeling you’ll like this one too. πŸ™‚

  3. I vaguely remember watching the movie on cable. Now I need to hunt for the book! And Anthony Hopkins is usually great in any role he takes. ^_^

    • Oh you’ve seen the movie! I hope I can find a copy of it somewhere. You’re right, Anthony Hopkins is great in any role he takes – I think my favorites are his roles in Meet Joe Black and Legends of the Fall, oh look at that, Brad Pitt is also present in those two films.

    • Brad Pitt. LOL. I think the Brad fangirls will argue that his best role is Achilles, if only for the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, ahem, posterior shot.

      • LOL I did like Troy because we studied the Iliad back in high school but I still like the first two movies that I mentioned a lot more.

      • Hehe. I remember Joe Black more than Legends of the Fall, because for some reason the former gets more cable reruns than the latter. But my favorite fictional incarnation of death is still a tie between Gaiman’s and Pratchett’s Deaths.

      • I LOVE Meet Joe Black. I’ve watched it over and over again. It’s funny because my guy friends love it too and they’re not usually big fans of romantic movies.

  4. So happy to hear that you gobbled this one up. It sucked me right in too. Frankly I got to the end and wanted another 100 pages or more of letters πŸ˜‰ And Helene & Frank.

    But yes, it’s amazing to see what even 50 years can do to an industry. And yep, I love getting things in the mail. Since letters come rarely, my anticipation is usually reserved for the books I’ve ordered!

    • Yes, the end was kind of abrupt, wasn’t it? I would’ve been fine with more letters.

      It’s always exciting to get something in the mail and because it’s rare that we do get stuff (aside from bills), that makes it all the more special. πŸ™‚

  5. Pingback: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff | Iris on Books

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