84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road84 Charing Cross Road, Finished 1-20-15, rating 3/5, 97 pages, pub. 1970

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.

from Goodreads

Oh, bah humbug! I chose this universally loved short book for my first Classics Club read and now I’m not sure if I’m even going to count it.  Is it too short? Should it be a novel?  Is it even a classic?  Feel free to add your two cents.

Okay, now to my second problem, I just didn’t get all the fuss.  I’ve read lots of reviews (some by you!) to try to convince myself that I liked it more than I did but it just isn’t happening.  I feel like the only kid in the classroom who doesn’t get it and while I hate to raise my hand and show my cluelessness, here I am doing just that.

This book is a series of letters sent between Helene, a New York writer, and Marks & Co., Booksellers, a London bookstore, between the years 1949-1969.  Helene is searching for hard-to-find books and Marks & Co. is happy to send them her way. Since this takes place during wartime and some foods are being rationed, Helene takes it upon herself to send the bookstore treats through the mail.  The staff fall in love with her letters and her generosity.  She mainly corresponds with Frank Doel, but many of the workers there send her letters and she sends them customers when friends travel to London.

Helene seems like a very cool New York woman who loves to read and educate herself.  I would have loved to have met her in person.  This sentiment is repeated in everyone who read her letters to the store and they were all hoping that they would get to meet the writer, but 20 years go by with just the exchange of letters and occasional gifts.  The letters themselves were sometimes interesting, sometimes not, and often there were so many years between letters that it just fell flat for me.

That being said I am planning on watching the movie with Anthony Hopkins and Ann Bancroft and see if that can bring it to life for me 🙂

24 thoughts on “84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

  1. Literary Feline says:

    I hope the movie is better for you! I haven’t read this and, I’m ashamed to say, didn’t even know what it was about until your review. I may pass on it and just see the movie. It doesn’t sound very interesting.

  2. susieq512 says:

    I haven’t read the book, but the movie is wonderful. Anne Bancroft is one of my favorite actresses, and I would watch her read the phone book. Anthony Hopkins isn’t too shabby either.

  3. Kay says:

    First, yes, count it. Who cares how long the book is? Second, I’ll confess. I didn’t like it either and didn’t even finish it. I did like the movie better. OK, I read it because I usually love epistolary books (books written in the form of letters, texts, emails, etc. – not saying you don’t know this, Stacy, just in case someone else isn’t familiar with the term). I did not love this one. And so many people love it dearly. Just goes to show – there’s a book for every person and person for every book and they may not be the same.

    P.S. Read Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE or a Mary Stewart book or any other Christie book – oh, read DEATH ON THE NILE or MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. Those are classics. 🙂

    • stacybuckeye says:

      It’s nice to find another reader that didn’t love it. Thanks Kay! I did know epistolary but it’s one of those words I don’t use because 1 I don’t care for it and 2 I always have to figure out how to spell it 😉 I will probably go more standard classic next time around since this one was the opposite of that. Thanks to you and Jill I do think I’ll be counting it.

  4. Mary says:

    Hm, I saw the film way back when (don’t remember much about it) and now I’m surprised there was enough to even make a film. I’d still count it for the challenge though.

  5. Teddyree says:

    novellas should absolutely count but bit of a bummer that it didn’t do it for you … I really thought it was going to be a winner. I’m going to read it just because it’s short lol but sounds like the movie is the way to go 🙂

  6. Care says:

    Yes, of course COUNT IT!
    Ha – that’s ok if you don’t find it as charming and delightful as I did. I recall exactly where I was when I was reading it and laughing out loud and looking up to see people looking at me. You know i love writing letters and I was charmed at how they were able to build a friendship in this way and I thought she was so smart and daring; reading such ‘hard’ books to educate herself and live life her way. I loved it.
    But no, Hitchhiker’s felt stale to me – but I bet if I had read it when it was originally pub’d, it would have charmed me more.

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