I kept seeing this book pop up on bookish friend’s lists and recommendations. It’s very, very short so I decided to give it a go. It was a lovely little book, but I’m not sure it deserves the level of fawning and adulation I’ve heard some people give it. Still, at 97 pages, you don’t have much to lose by trying it.
The book documents the decades long love affair between an American woman (Helene Hanff) and a British bookshop (Marks & Co.). The story of their friendship is told through letters. Helene is witty and brash while the bookshop workers, especially Frank Doel, are prim and proper (at least to start). The letters are very charming and enjoyable. I can see why 84, Charing Cross Road is popular with the bookish set. What’s not to love about watching bookworms bond over their shared love? And every page seems to have some new bookish quote begging to quoted by new generations of book lovers. Like these:
I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to “I hate to read new books,” and I hollered “Comrade!” to whoever owned it before me.
I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages someone long gone has called my attention to.
Why is it that people who wouldn’t dream of stealing anything else think it’s perfectly alright to steal books?
That last one definitely resonates with me. I hardly ever lend books out anymore because I never get them back!