84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff: Book Review

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84, Charing Cross Road

3 Stars

Writer and bibliophile Helene Hanff strikes up a friendship through correspondence with the staff of a used bookshop in London.

I think my expectations were too high. I remember other readers telling me, “Oh, if you liked The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you will absolutely love 84, Charing Cross Road.” Well, I absolutely loved Guernsey, so there wasn’t really any room for me to like something more. Disappointment was inevitable.

Letters were obviously left out, and I found myself wondering what was going on in between the published letters. There would be a reference to “your last letter” and I wondered what had been said in it.

I was a little taken aback by how quickly the author took such a familiar tone with the reserved “Brits.” I can’t imagine writing “WHAT KIND OF A BLACK PROTESTANT BIBLE IS THIS?” in my second letter to a business. Not if I was truly upset, and definitely not in a teasing manner.

I thought it got repetitive. “Do you have this book? Why not? What’s that in dollars? Glad you liked the food I sent. Maybe I’ll get over there someday.” That’s about it.

I don’t think I’ve read, or even heard of, most of the books that the author wants to buy. I appreciate that she’s a voracious reader, but we apparently have 0 books in common. It was hard to stir up much interest in that.

I did like that books united such far-flung people. I’m sitting here thinking about a quote by Emerson that says something like “I can’t be truly alone when I’m surrounded by books.” He was using that as an argument to get out in nature, but that can be a comforting thought as well. Not only am I as a reader sharing a connection with an author, but I’ve got a connection, whether we’re aware of it or not, to all the other readers who’ve picked up a particular work. It’s a connection that transcends time and space. These books connected this group of people in a much more immediate way, and their lives were obviously enriched by the connection.

I’ve been a little harsher than I meant to be on this slim little volume. I did mostly enjoy myself. Just don’t set your expectations too high going into it.

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I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

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1 Comment

  1. What a shame you were not overly keen on this book. I love it (Guernsey!) Likewise, I had never heard of the books she was requesting. Perhaps on my next re read I will jot them all down & then see if I can borrow them from the library.

    You should try Apple of my Eye by the same author. As someone who not been to New York, but wants to I was interested. She writes an interesting account of the World Trade Centres, & in doing so preserves a piece of history.

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