If you have been around book blogs for a while, then you will have either read this book or know of its existence.
For those that don’t
’84 Charing Cross Road’ is a charming record of bibliophilia, cultural difference, and imaginative sympathy. For 20 years, an outspoken New York writer and a rather more restrained London bookseller carried on an increasingly touching correspondence.
I have always liked reading letters between people, it feels like you have suddenly been let into a really special place in someone’s friendship. It has that gossipy feel, that you are hearing something that perhaps you should not be.
In the case of Helene Haff’s correspondence with Frank Doel, the man who in the main responded to her letters we see much thought about books and those editions that are the most relevant and important. But also we start to see what life is like for both Helene and Frank and the differences that the war has made to them both and how, Frank starts to share along with his co workers life about London post war. That whilst they do not have the abundance of goods that Helene seems to send them across, they do have an abundance of books that she wants.
Included in this edition of the book, which I was unaware of when I purchased it is, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.
This is the direct sequel to 84 Charing Cross Road and rather than in letter form, it is diary form as we see the author, Helene Hanff make the journey to London, to Charing Cross Road and to visit many of the people she has only corresponded with. Due to the many delays in getting to London, the dynamic of the place has changed somewhat and the faces are very different. But Helene does get to experience something of London and we read about it through her eyes and words. Always interesting to see someone else’s take, especially an American, on some of the things we take very much for granted, the Tower of London, Windsor, Stratford-upon-Avon.
I am so glad that I got round to reading these two books. Both in themselves short stories, but read together makes you understand the fascination with all things books especially bookshops.
Whilst 84 Charing Cross road still exists it is there for those with a fast appetite, books are no longer its food. There is still a reminder.
Although my local bookshop is nothing like 84, I suddenly have an overwhelming desire to go and visit it. Not that I need any more books of course……