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84, Charing Cross Road

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A finales de 1940 la joven neoyorquina Helene Hanff solicita algunas obras a Marks & Co., una librería londinense situada en el número 84 de Charing Cross Road. A esta primera misiva seguirán otras para agradecer los envíos, para mandar nuevas peticiones, para pagar ingeniosamente los libros cuando faltan recursos... o simplemente para hablar, opinar, recomendar, ironizar. A lo largo de veinte años, la correspondencia entre la escritora americana y su librero inglés, Frank Doel, forjará una amistad basada en el amor a la literatura que hará de Helene parte indispensable de Marks & Co.

128 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1970

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About the author

Helene Hanff

20 books518 followers
Helene Hanff (April 15, 1916–April 9, 1997) was an American writer. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she is best known as the author of the book 84 Charing Cross Road, which became the basis for a play, teleplay, and film of the same name.

Her career, which saw her move from writing unproduced plays to helping create some of the earliest television dramas to becoming a kind of professional New Yorker, goes far beyond the charm of that one book. She called her 1961 memoir Underfoot in Show Business, and it chronicled the struggle of an ambitious young playwright to make it in the world of New York theatre in the 1940s and 1950s. She worked in publicists' offices and spent summers on the "straw hat" circuit along the East Coast of the United States, writing plays that were admired by some of Broadway's leading producers but which somehow never saw the light of day.

She wrote and edited scripts for a variety of early television dramas produced out of New York, all the while continuing to try and move from being what she called "one of the 999 out of 1,000 who don't become Noel Coward." When the bulk of television production moved to California, her work slowly dried up, and she turned to writing for magazines and, eventually, to the books that made her reputation.

First published in 1970, the epistolary work 84 Charing Cross Road chronicles her 20 years of correspondence with Frank Doel, the chief buyer for Marks & Co., a London bookshop, on which she depended for the obscure classics and British literature titles around which her passion for self-education revolved. She became intimately involved in the lives of the shop's staff, sending them food parcels during England's post-war shortages and sharing with them details of her life in Manhattan.

Due to financial difficulties and an aversion to travel, she put off visiting her English friends until too late; Doel died in December 1968 from peritonitis from a burst appendix, and the bookshop eventually closed. Hanff did finally visit Charing Cross Road and the empty but still standing shop in the summer of 1971, a trip recorded in her 1973 book The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.

In the 1987 film of 84 Charing Cross Road, Hanff was played by Anne Bancroft, while Anthony Hopkins took the part of Frank Doel. Anne Jackson had earlier played Hanff in a 1975 adaptation of the book for British television. Ellen Burstyn recreated the role on Broadway in 1982 at the Nederlander Theater in New York City.

She later put her obsession with British scholar Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch to use in a book called Q's Legacy. Other books include Apple of My Eye, an idiosyncratic guide to New York City, and A Letter from New York (1992), which reprinted talks she gave on the BBC's Woman's Hour between 1978 and 1985.

Hanff was never shy about her fondness for cigarettes and martinis, but nevertheless lived to be 80, dying of diabetes in 1997 in New York City. The apartment building where she lived at 305 E. 72nd Street has been named "Charing Cross House" in her honor. A bronze plaque next to the front door commemorates her residence and authorship of the book.



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5 stars
29,898 (41%)
4 stars
28,243 (38%)
3 stars
11,156 (15%)
2 stars
2,355 (3%)
1 star
855 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 11,432 reviews
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,877 followers
February 16, 2011
"If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much."

This was my second reading of the book, and I'm adding a star to my original rating. I laughed a lot harder this time, and even got a little choked up near the end. I don't recall this much chortling, cackling, guffawing and snorting on my first time through. The contrast between Helene Hanff's brash American informality and Frank Doel's staid British professionalism is delightful. There's a certain charm in his politeness, while at the same time one wonders how long it will take for him to loosen up. His first letter to Helene begins "Dear Madam", to which she replies:
"I hope 'madam' doesn't mean over there what it does here."
Her humor and generosity did slowly erode his reserve, but it took years. As she put it:
"I write them the most outrageous letters from a safe 3,000 miles away."
Outrageous they are, and charmingly witty.

I remember when e-mail first started to take hold in the early 1990s. I was working for a professor who mentioned to me that it was ahistorical. We would henceforth have no permanent record of most of our written communication. His comments stayed in my mind while I happily made the switch from snail mail to electronic. Re-reading this little treasury of collected letters made me think perhaps we've lost more than just an outdated form of contact.
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
376 reviews2,794 followers
December 6, 2022
84, Charing Cross Road is a book which contains selected correspondence between a New York book lover in New York City (Helene Hanff) and a used bookseller in London (Frank Doel). The correspondence starts in 1949 and lasts for 20 years.

This book started off strongly as the reader is a voyeur into the lives of Helene Hanff and Frank Doel. The love and enthusiasm that Helene Hanff oozes for literature is almost palpable and highly contagious. She also tries to help her favorite British bookstore. However, Helene refers to so many pieces of obscure literature. Many of the books I have never even heard of (although I do know William Blake and Jane Austen unfortunately). It would have been more poignant if it was referring to modern pieces of literature or at least more well-known works. Thinking back on some of my literary discussions, I found them to be more entertaining and endearing than this book.

This book did transport me back in time (alright well I wasn’t born in 1949 or even 1969), but I do remember a time when people actually took the time to sit down and write letters. They put time and thought into it, and it meant the world to hold that letter in your hand. It was a special event to receive a letter from someone. Now, we have email where you get adverts from a company after you purchased one bottle of nail polish. People give you a hug while checking their Smartphones. Once upon a time, there was a time when someone sat down and focused on correspondence without 26 email notifications, 385 Twitter notifications, and 16 text messages. Would Helene have been able to craft such a relationship today? Maybe she could chat with a virtual assistant.

Overall, this book is worth a read once, but I’ve encountered livelier bookish discussions on GoodReads.

2023 Reading Schedule
Jan Alice in Wonderland
Feb Notes from a Small Island
Mar Cloud Atlas
Apr On the Road
May The Color Purple
Jun Bleak House
Jul Bridget Jones’s Diary
Aug Anna Karenina
Sep The Secret History
Oct Brave New World
Nov A Confederacy of Dunces
Dec The Count of Monte Cristo

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Profile Image for Brina.
873 reviews4 followers
October 16, 2017
As a child, I loved writing to pen pals. Anywhere I went that offered a chance to sign up to be a pen pal, I did with earnest. None of the pen pals ended up amounting to much, but it was thrilling to receive letters from them in the mail. I come from a line of pen pal writers as my mother wrote to an English girl her age for her entire childhood and teenaged years. It is not surprising then, that I one of the first books I reviewed on goodreads was Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over by Geraldine Brooks, where Brooks details her own experiences with pen pals, one that eventually lead her to move to the United States and a career in writing. It comes of less of a surprise that I would be lead to 84, Charing Cross Road, a short book of correspondence by former television writer Helene Hanff. A proclaimed Anglophile who wrote to employees of the Marks and Company Book Shop in London over a twenty year period, Hanff published her letters in book form as a gift to future readers and letter writers.

Helene Hanff is enamored by out of print, hard to find British literature. The only location close to her where she is able to obtain any just to look at is at the main branch of the New York City Public Library. Yet, that library is 50 blocks from her home and most of the time she is unable to bring the books she finds back to her apartment. The books she can read are new and do not have a history behind them. By chance, Hanff's upstairs neighbors are British, and they give her the name of Marks and Co. Starting in 1949, Hanff begins writing to Marks' employees requesting new or slightly used second hand copies of all things British, everything from Chaucer to Austen and all rare books in between. While Hanff has got to pay for the air mail and shipping fees, she is happy to do so as it opens a new world of books to her. What started as an enquiry becomes a twenty year correspondence with employees at the shop.

The main pen pal Hanff wrote to was an employee named Frank Doel. In time, she also wrote to his wife and neighbor as well as other employees at Marks and Company. At first they referred to each other by names of ma'am and sir, but gradually they grew to use familiar names Helene and Frank. Engaging in intelligent conversations about books and about their lives, Hanff became emotionally invested in the lives of the Marks and Company family. Each year she would send the staff gifts of hard to find rationed items as meats, eggs, sugar, and nylon stockings. For this, they were forever grateful, going out of their way to send Hanff any book she requested, even an extremely rare copy of the Complete Works of John Donne. While money did not allow her to travel, Hanff had an open invitation to visit London and stay as a guest of any of the shop employees. What had started as a simple letter morphed into a lifelong friendship.

The correspondence that Helene Hanff engaged in seemed as a precursor to goodreads as she discussed books with otherwise strangers on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Finding like minded readers from all over the world is one of the things I enjoy the most about goodreads, so I was drawn to Hanff and her quest to obtain British literature. Even though she was unable to visit London, Hanff's sincere writing left me with a smile as I envisioned her thrill of opening the letters and packages that emerged from a simple correspondence. With the majority of correspondence now done electronically, letter writing has become a lost art. Hanff's letters to Doel took me back to a simpler time, and that their relationship centered on books was only an added bonus.

4+ stars
Profile Image for Luffy.
932 reviews698 followers
August 21, 2017
The epistolary meanderings of Helene Hanff and Frank Dole are insightful, playful in their coyness, and progressive in their development. This is an actual correspondence gone awfully right.

There is a starkness of honesty in this correspondence. Yet the prose in the letters aren't quite as dry as might be feared. Like I said, the back and forth is progressive. There is definitely life in these letters.

This real occurrence happens after the second world war(the last three words of which is a favorite book of mine). The books that are being requested by Helene are not the point of this book. It's just that there is a fictional value in these exchanges. These people lived. I enjoyed this little book immensely, hence the rating.
Profile Image for Nayra.Hassan.
1,260 reviews5,045 followers
August 21, 2022
فلتحيا العلاقات السطحية الف مرة
فليعيش الغريب الذي يسبر اغوراك من نظرة
المجد للبعيد الذي يقرأ اسرارك من بين حروف تخطها أصابعك
فليديم الله علينا ونس الغرباء
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كم مرة استمتعت بتلقى خطاب بخط اليد؟
عبَر البحار ليفاجئك بحروف حملت من روح صاحبهاَ الكثير
انا كنت من القدامي المحظوظين بتلقى مئات الخطابات من غرباء! و اصدقاء بل اعتدت على معرفة تاريخ عائلتي: بقراءة إرث خطابات من رحلوا..من خلالها أيقنت ان لكل منا شخصيتين؛ و اننا نحتفظ بالشخصية العذبة
للورق؛ للعابرين؛ للغرباء

هيلين كاتبة ثلاثينية أمريكية و فرانك صائد كتب بريطانى اربعيني؛ 
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َبدات بينهما سلسلة مراسلات عبر المحيط عام ١٩٤٩ تطلب من خلالها هيلين
توفير كتب بطبعات و اصدرات معينة من مكتبة لندنية لبيع الكتب القديمة و النادرة..فرانك هو الوراق الذي ينطلق عبر ربوع إنجلترا لشراء مكتبات المتوّفين؛ ليعمّر بها رفوف مكتبة شيرينغ كروس
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يا الله كم تفتح القراءة بوابات اللطف و التفهم في *
نفوسنا.. نحن من نسمع و نرى و نشعر بالاخر قبل نطقه بحرف
سرعان ما تنطلق طلبات هيلين الثقافية بأسلوب عفوي مرح ساخر يقابله فرانك بتحفظ بريطانى ؛ لكن لان بريطانيا كانت في أوضاع تقشفية مزرية بعد الحرب العالمية؛ بدأت هيلين تتطوع بإرسال طرود من قطع  اللحم و بيض طازج و مجفف و معلبات لكل موظفي المكتبة
يا الله كم توحد الحروف بين  قلوبنا،*
كم تجمع الصفحات بين الفرقاء

سرعان ما كسبت قلوب الكل بطرودها الغذائية المتعاطفة  التي تبررها بأنها تكفر عن أهمال أمريكا لبريطانيا

وأعتذر منكم شخصياً عن خطايا بلدي"
(وحين أعود إلى الوطن سيكون على بلدي حتماً الاعتذار عن خطاياي)
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و هكذا نتأمل نسخة خاصة جدا من: قصة مدينتين

ادب الرسائل يكون دوما مزيجا من السيرة الذاتية/التاريخية.. و ينساب تاريخ البلدين بعفوية عبر خبريات صغيرة
تتعدد المراسلات بين هيلين و كل عاملي المكتبة بلغة ذكية و راقية
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و يتضح افتتناها الشديد بلندن؛
فنراقب تتويج الملكة إليزابيث الحالية عام١٩٥٢ و انفراج الازمة الغذائية بعدها.. و يتعاقب على أمريكا الرؤساء و تفقد هيلين عملها  و تفوز بغيره و تمرض زوجة فرانك و يتوالي ما يبعدهم و يقربهم و  تظل الكتب هي ما يجمعهم دوما
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كم تُشبع الاغلفة عيوننا
كم نأتنس بالكلام المفتون :بحواف الكتب المذهبة و التجليد المذهل و الكلمات المتناثرة على هوامش كتب امتلكها قبلك قارئ و اثنين
كيف فرط فيها؟ هل مات؟ هل كفر بجدوي القراءة؟

و مثل كل العلاقات تبدأ المراسلات قوية / مثيرة و ينساب النصف الأول من الكتاب لطيفا و حيويا؛ و ك حال الدنيا؛ يفهم الطرفين بعضهما جيدا و تصبح المراسلات متباعدة و قصيرة و اقل إثارة.. و هو كتاب ليس للجميع ابداً بل هو حالة اما ان تقع في غرامها او ترفضها كلياً
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كان اهل المكتبة متشوقين دوما لزيارة هيلين و يكرمون اصدقائها.. بينما كانت هي حريصة على الاحتفاظ بغموض العلاقة حتي فات الأوان طبعا


ما لم يتم ذكره في الخطابات هي المأسي التي مرت بالطرفين  فاسرة فرانك تأزمت لفترة بسبب علاقتهم بمن اتضح انهم جواسيس روس
و هيلين التي لم تتزوج طوال عمرها مرت بأيام صعبة ماديا حتى استقرت اخيرا على عمل ثابت بالصحافة و اخيرا كمذيعة بالإذاعة البريطانية و تم إنتاج معظم مسرحياتها تلفزيونيا و نالت شهرة متأخرة
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و قد ذكرت هذه الأحداث في الجزء الثاني لكتابنا
  The Duchess of Bloomsbury Str
و لكنها منحت فرانك بلوم شهرة خالدة بمرثيتها الفريدة له عام ١٩٧١ عندما نشرت مراسلاتها الراقية مع الوراق  البريطاني الأكثر شهرة؛ و الذي خلد ذكراه أنتوني هوبكنز باداؤه العذب لشخصيته في فيلم قدم كثير من آلتفسيرات لما غمض علينا في الخطابات؛ و قد حمل اسم الرواية و انتجته بريطانيا عام ١٩٨٧ و حضرته الأميرة ديانا و الملكة الام
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الاهم ان الرواية التي انتظرتها بشوق تمنح من هم مثلي من عشاق الخطابات و الكتب و لندن مفاجأة لن تتكرر حلاوتها كثيرا عن اثنين احتفظا بالمسافة الآمنة بينهما لعشرين عام
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews2,685 followers
September 24, 2021
I often jump straight to the down and dirty of a book, but please allow me to shake things up by presenting the lithe and lovely.

- 84, Charing Cross Road is an absolutely delightful epistolary memoir made up of letters exchanged between NYC-based author Helene Hanff and an antiquarian bookseller in London.

- It was published in 1970 and contains twenty years of correspondence that began in 1949 - a time when London was still dealing with post-war rationing and, to state the obvious, the internet did not exist. If you wanted to find a rare book or first edition of a favorite, you had to hunt for it! Oh, the joy of finally locating a coveted treasure by reaching out by letter to a store across the world rather than just through the click of a mouse.

- There are no villains in this book. None at all. It’s just chock full of wonderful, bookish people being wonderful to other bookish people.

- 84, Charing Cross Road has languished on my To Read shelf since I joined Goodreads back in 2014. Now that I’ve finally gotten to it, the lump in my throat and the smile on my face have moved it straight to the top of my All Time Favorites.

84 stars for this loveliest of lovely reads.

Blog: https://www.confettibookshelf.com/
Profile Image for Adina.
779 reviews2,952 followers
August 24, 2022
I’ve wanted to read this little book since I first read its name and the synopsis. It is a story of a friendship, a sweet little collection of letters between an American script writer and the employees of a London secondhand bookstore. Since I first set foot on London soil in 2005, I’ve been visiting the second hand bookstores (one in particular) from Charing Cross Road almost every year. I have to admit that I felt a bit of nostalgia while reading.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society opened my appetite for epistolary novels (I loved, loved, that one) and I thought this will be quite similar. And it was, up to a point.

Both are set in the aftermath of the 2nd World War which was an interesting background in both books. I did not know that everything was rationalized in Britain for quite a few years after the War. In 86 Charing Cross Road there is a lot of talk about that and the presents the American writer sends to London. It was emotional at the beginning but it became boring and repetitive.

One of the main differences between the two books is that one is a fictional love story the other is a collection of a real correspondence so there was not much space of imagination. Still, I have to thank this little book for getting me out of a deep reading slump.

Another reason I do not give more stars, is that the books mentioned in the letters are totally unknown to me. They are mainly memoirs, poems and non-fiction classics that I’ve
never read. The only titles I knew were Pride and Prejudice and the Canterbury Tales.

All in all, it was worth the read as it takes less than two hours and it made me feel good
Profile Image for Angela M (On a little break).
1,270 reviews2,217 followers
November 17, 2017

Letters, literature, friendships, kindness and humor fill the pages of this small volume. It's a gift from Helene Hanff to anyone who loves books. Not much more I can say except that all book lovers should read it .

Long distance friendships and books - a lot like Goodreads .
Profile Image for Candi.
598 reviews4,534 followers
June 21, 2022
It’s about time I finally cracked this charming little book open. I’ve had it sitting on the nightstand for nearly a decade. A tribute to bookstores, booklovers, and England, this epistolary novel delivered exactly what I expected it to! If Goodreads hadn’t already confirmed what I suspected, namely that I’m not the only soul in the world with a book reading and book collecting obsession, then Helene Hanff’s experience would have offered the proof I needed. Her letters written from a small apartment in New York City to Frank, a used bookshop dealer in London, were a pleasure to read.

“’You and your Olde English books!’ You see how it is, Frankie, you’re the only soul alive who understands me.”

Likely, you won’t be surprised to learn that secondhand bookstores are one of my most treasured places on earth to visit. Immediately after checking into a hotel in whatever town or city I’ve landed, I will set the suitcase down, connect to the WiFi, and search the internet for restaurants and local used bookshops. I don’t usually show up with a plan in mind, but instead spend hours scouring the shelves for special finds. I love thinking about all the other readers that have previously held these books in their hands. Did they like the book but not well enough to keep it at home on that favorites shelf? Did he or she pass away years before and not have a book-loving friend or relative to hand the books down to? Or maybe this fellow bookworm simply ran out of space or packed up, moved, and decided to share a beloved book with some stranger in the future that will connect to him or her by some invisible thread.

“I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.”

I’m pleased to finally say I can move this book from the nightstand to the “keepers” shelf. I’m just a bit sorry that it ended all too soon. I could have kept reading about Helene and Frank for days yet. This little gem also serves as a reminder to not put off until tomorrow what you’d love to do today. Time is shorter than we imagine, and the people we wish to meet and the places we yearn to visit are waiting for us. The time is now!

“Please write and tell me about London, I live for the day when I step off the boat-train and feel its dirty sidewalks under my feet. I want to walk up Berkeley Square and down Wimpole Street and stand in St. Paul’s where John Donne preached and sit on the step Elizabeth sat on when she refused to enter the Tower, and like that. A newspaper man I know, who was stationed in London during the war says tourists go to England with preconceived notions, so they always find exactly what they are looking for. I told him I’d go looking for the England of English literature, and he said ‘Then it’s there.’”
Profile Image for Mohamed Shady.
626 reviews6,514 followers
April 18, 2020

هل يمكن لأشخاص، لم يلتقوا أبدًا، أن تتكون بينهم صداقة راسخة وحميمية؟
نعم، بالتأكيد، حين يكون الشيء المشترك هو "الكتب"
بعض الكتب وُجدت لمنحنا شعورًا بأننا أفضل، بأن الحياة تحمل في طياتها الكثير من الاحتمالات السعيدة، وأنه ما زال هناك خير في هذا العالم وسكّانه. وهذا كتاب من هذه الكتب.

على مدار عشرين عامًا راسلت الكاتبة الأمريكية "هيلين هانف" "فرانك دويل"، أحد العاملين في مكتبة "ماركس وشركاه لبيع الكتب" في لندن، تطلب منه توفير بعض الكلاسيكيات التي تريدها، عشرون عامًا والرسائل تعبر المحيط، من نيويورك إلى لندن ومن لندن إلى نيويورك، وتدريجًا تتوطد العلاقة بينهما، وتتسع دائرة الرسائل لتشمل آخرين من العاملين في المكتبة وأهاليهم.

"هيلين" شخص لطيف، خفيفة الظل، يمكن أن يُجمع على هذا كل العاملين في المكتبة؛ ترسل إليهم الهدايا في المناسبات، تعرف أسماء أطفالهم، وهم بالمثل يبادلونها المشاعر الطيبة والهدايا.
لكن "هيلين" متطلباتها صعبة، تطلب الكتب بطبعات معينة، بشكل معين، بتغليف معين، وهو ما يستطيع "فرانك دويل" توفيره في معظم الأحيان، وحين يفشل تمازحه ساخرةً من كسله وتقاعسه، ويتقبّل هو هذا المزاح بصدر رحب ويعدها أن يحاول مرة أخرى.

بعد الحرب العالمية الثانية كانت الأوضاع في أوروبا سيئة للغاية، خرجت الدول العظمى من حرب استنزفت الموارد والبشر�� وعلى من بقى حيًا أن يناضل حتى يقف على قدميه. في خلفية الرسائل اللطيفة نتعرّف على ما يحدث في لندن، ندرة بعض البضائع والأطعمة، الحصة الأسبوعية التي توزعها الحكومية على المواطنين، تنصيب الملكة الجديدة وغيرها من الأمور.

لو كان في كل مدينة مكتبة "ماركس وشركاه" لأحب الجميع القراءة كما أحبّتها "هيلين هانف"، لكن، ولسوء الحظ، هناك "ماركس وشركاه" وحيدة، وهناك "هيلين هانف" واحدة.

Profile Image for سيد محمد .
271 reviews402 followers
January 29, 2023
في نقطة ما يوجد مركز العالم بالنسبة لنا
في نقطة ما يتعانق خط طول وخط عرض
في نقطة ما تضام علامة الأفقي وعلامة الرأسي
هناك عند مكتبة
كشجرة تشرّبت عجينة الحياة من عقول المبدعين
تطرح أوراقها في سماء بلا حدود
يلتقطها بريق ساطع من توهج شعلة سارحة في حلم صاف
يجتمع الناس والكلمات في دائرة لم تغلق محيطها بعد
يلتقي عبر الأزمنة واللغات
هؤلاء الذين يشاركوننا الكلمات المتراصة في الصفحات
مثل مراكب راسية في ميناء
حمولتها راسخة مفعمة بمودة تدفّقت من منابع الأفئدة
أناملنا تلامست
عيوننا احتضنت
نفوسنا اهتزت
كنا نذهب معا لسور الأزبكية
في حجم الكف ولف بلادا ذاك الكتاب
مثل قصص الحب حينما تلتقي غلافه
عنوانه
اسم مؤلفه
تدرك أن العلاقة لن تقف عند ذاك الحد
رب��ا كانت الكتب تعويضا عن أحبة لم نفتح لهم عقولنا
ربما كانت وسيلة للتواصل مع أصدقاء نعلم أن الكلمات المطبوعة ستنطبع في مخيلتهم
كما انطبعت في ذاكرتنا
هذه الرواية شجية صديقة
تجعلنا نفكر في ظاهرة التراسل
التي تصبح الخطابات فيها بديلا لصفحات روحية مكتوبة بمداد المشاعر والخيال
في مكتبتنا التي لا يعرف طريقها سوانا
وربما شخص آخر يقرأ ما لا نكتبه
رواية تكتب نفسها من داخلها
تخرج الكلمات كأسماك حية تنتفض بمياهها الملوّنة
وتظل في حوضها المتّسع الذي تلتصق به أشواقنا ولا تكاد تغادره وإن أغلقنا النص
تاريخ الأدب، أسطوانات الموسيقى، مشاكل الترجمة، ملامس الأغلفة، نتائج الانتخابات، أرقام العملة، أنواع الطعام
تهنئات الأعياد والأمنيات الطيبة والروح المرحة
وتحرّر النفس من التجارة إلى التواصل الروحي الخالص
اللقاء في العواصم عبر المحيطات
من نيويوك التي تصنع هويتها بين قارتين
إلى لندن الضامة إبداعها في الأرفف الكلاسيكية العتيقة
رغبتنا في التجلي هناك في المكتوب بدرجة أوضح
من صوتنا الضائع في زحام المشافهة
رواية تتمنى أن تكتبها
لأنها كتبت مساحة خضراء من نفسك
وتتمنى أن تجد من يحتفظ برسائل
ربما لم تكتبها أبدا
لكنها انطلقت كنهر لا يعرف المصب
عمل جميل يبدأ بطلب الكتب
ويصل إلى إبداع جديد
في السرد والحياة معا
الرسائل زهرة العمر كما كتب توفيق الحكيم
مدادها عطور في رياض الذاكرة
كل نقطة في ذاك المداد يمكن أن تعيد إنتاج التاريخ الشعوري الحيوي الصادق
في تجربة جمالية جديدة تؤكد نظرية الاحتمالات
التي تصل المجرة الأدبية الفكرية
بالمعادلات الرياضية
فتفتح أبواب مدن الخيال
على أطلال نظن أنها اندرست
وهي نائمة في جيولوجيا المتحف النفسي الجمعي الكبير
الذي يمتص أضواء اللحظات المعرفية
ليلونها بدرجات الحلم
الممتدة في السلم الموسيقي لإيقاع الأزمنة التي لم نرها
Profile Image for Julie G .
857 reviews2,629 followers
March 26, 2022
Interestingly, I have just read two books in a row for my 1970s reading project that were published in the 1970s, but took place at an earlier time. It feels, to me, a little bit like cheating, but they were popular books in the 70s, regardless, so here I am, reviewing another one (accidentally).

And, fittingly, this non-fiction story, compiled like an epistolary novel, reminded me of a memory I have from the early-mid 1980s, so let me misbehave, for a moment, and cheat on my beloved 70s with another decade.

This book reminded me of a period of time in my life when I was babysitting, every Saturday night, for a gorgeous college professor and her husband (old what's-his-name). I was a young teen, and, after the kids would go to bed, I'd pull a book down from their fabulous home library, put on some soft porn from HBO in the background (this house is the setting for another review of mine: Wise Blood ) and then creep into their kitchen for my one weekly indulgence: an Entenmann's chocolate doughnut.

Back at my own house, my mother was a combination of Twiggy mixed with Jane Fonda and we had fat-free bodies and a sugar-free household for all of the 1970s and 1980s. (And then therapy for the next 20 years).

So. . . around 10pm every Saturday night for about two years, I would defy our household rules (because I wasn't home, duh), and I would take one perfectly formed chocolate doughnut and hold it out before me like the Holy Grail, then place it reverently on one perfectly formed white napkin and appreciate the yin/yang duality of my life before tearing into that treat in the den like a barnyard animal.

The sugar and fat would rush my senses while inappropriate scenes from movies like “Porky's” played on in the background and I would discover my next precious read.

Remembering those Saturday nights fills me with nostalgia. I had no idea I was having that much fun at the time, but I know it now.

Sometimes we don't know how special something is, until it's over. We hope, when we remember, that we have visuals, letters. We hope that someone else remembers, too.
April 20, 2022
There is something about a letter correspondence between two book lovers that never gets old. My heart, wistfully content and overflowing upon reading 84, Charing Cross Road, testifies to this.

Texting and emailing these days - it is just different, isn't it? The corporate, capitalistic, hypertech world we live in has, in some respects, sucked aliveness out of the things it promises to enhance: networking and uninterrupted presence.

This is not to say that Hanff's letter assemblage necessarily makes for a nostalgic flashback to an obliterated past that tends towards a wishful recovery of it. But it does stir a very human longing for a simple bond of friendship sustained notwithstanding the 50s-60s perception of distance (New York / London).

A distance that is not merely geographical but also temperamental. Because Helene Hanff and Frank Doel could not be more different if they tried. Helen is a writer who has to constantly wait on commissioned work to make ends meet, in this not very different from Frank Doel, her chief correspondent and bookseller at Marks & Co. on Charing Cross Road. Quintessential quirkiness on the one hand, self-contained British reserve on the other, the two wonderfully maintain contact from year to year, usually initiated by some peculiar book request on Helene's part, or Frank's responses to her old requests. It is, therefore, their variously manifested life passion for rare books that nourishes communication between them. Except that, in time, they warm up to each others' ways, and come to delight in the correspondence, to some extent participating in each others' lives.

Helene's plan to visit England never quite materialises, but others from London (Frank's wife and colleagues amongst others) cannot resist getting in touch with her from time to time. Because Helene is also extremely generous and vibrant. Opinionated, no doubt, but so candid and likeable. And, of course, she likes to affectionately taunt Frank, who is not as uptight as one would be apt to think and reciprocates with care and attention.

I certainly kept wanting to read more of her whimsical letters, much like her correspondents. It did sadden me somewhat to think about their long intervals of silence, and yet each letter comes across as the rightful continuation to its former counterparts. The mark of true friendship.

4 stars. Highly recommended to all readers.
Profile Image for Tina.
477 reviews726 followers
April 26, 2022
I've always adored this movie so I decided to listen to the short audio. It was such a delight!

A book that was originally published in 1970 about a twenty year letter correspondence (1949-1969) that turned into a sweet friendship.

Helene Hanff lives in New York City and is a writer and lover of old, out of print books. She contacts Marks & Co. an antique bookshop in London about a book she is looking for. The head buyer, Frank Doel responds and sends her the book. They begin to correspond and Helene orders more books and they also begin to talk about their lives. As the years go by Frank's wife also writes to Helene as well as some other staff members from Marks & Co. There are some sweet and cheeky exchanges.

A treasure of a story when long ago letter writing existed and two perfect strangers bonded and formed a beautiful friendship 💌
Profile Image for Terrie (mostly "in" now) Robinson.
356 reviews518 followers
October 9, 2021
"84, Charing Cross Road" by Helene Hanff is an Epistolary Historical Non-Fiction treasure!

Letters exchanged between writer Helene Hanff and bookseller Frank Doel (rhymes with 'Noel' just in case you were curious!) She lived in New York City and was a lover of old out-of-print books. He lived and worked in London as an antiquarian at MARKS & CO. at 84, Charing Cross Road.

A book containing nothing other than letters that traveled back and forth across the pond started in 1949 and continued for 20 years. It began with a mutual love of old books, gradually blossoming into a true friendship between Helene and Frank. It also branched out to include the employees in the bookstore, Frank's wife, and, eventually, their children. Helene's acts of kindness through the post-war years, I believe to be the catalyst of this inclusion!

I read this book while on our 2021 Fall Getaway. I intentionally savored it, reading only a few pages a day. Some days I would backtrack and revisit previous pages before moving on. I wanted it to last the entire trip. I didn't want this glimpse of the past to end.

This book brought back memories of watching Mom receiving a letter from someone dear and how relationships were solidified and enriched by this type of correspondence. A letter was always the best way to nudge Mom for attention! I miss those days...

If it sounds like this short ninety-seven page read may interest you, I hope it stirs the same deep emotions in you that it stirred in me! I highly recommend.

Thanks to Knox County Library System for lending this treasure to me!
Published in 1970, Ms. Hanff dedicated this book to Frank Doel.
Profile Image for Lynda.
204 reviews61 followers
February 3, 2015
I lived in London from 2004 to 2008 and still have a house there. I continue to travel to London regularly from Dubai. I call these trips my "sanity check"; they transport me from my 'dream' world back to the 'real' world.

One of my favourite haunts in London is Charing Cross Road. It's been the home to booksellers selling second-hand and rare books for decades. Long before the American writer Helene Hanff immortalised the street in 84 Charing Cross Road, the area enjoyed a storied association with the city’s literary scene and its accompanying book trade. In its 1950s heyday, denizens of the nearby drinking dens of Soho, from Dylan Thomas to Auberon Waugh, would stagger from shop to shop, scanning the heaving shelves.

One of those shops was Marks & Co., the subject of this review, a well-known antiquarian bookseller located at Cambridge Circus - 84 Charing Cross Road, London. The shop was founded in the 1920s by Benjamin Marks and Mark Cohen. Cohen was persuaded to allow his name to be abbreviated in the company's name. The company built a good reputation for itself and had famous customers, including Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw, Michael Foot, royalty and public institutions such as universities and the British Museum.


- Marks & Co., 84 Charing Cross Road

Marks & Co. used to advertise its goods in various newspapers, magazines, journals etc. On Oct 5, 1949, a Miss Helene Hanff, from New York City, USA saw their ad in the Saturday Review of Literature. She wrote them a letter:
"Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase 'antiquarian book-sellers' scares me somewhat, as I equate 'antique' with expensive. I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or in Barnes & Noble's grimy, marked-up school-boy copies.

I enclose a list of my most pressing problems. If you have clean secondhand copies of any of the books on the list, for no more than $5.00 each, will you consider this a purchase order and send them to me?"
Her letter was responded to by an employee of Marks & Co. with the initials FPD, who we later learn is Frank Doel, the chief buyer for Marks & Co.. And so the epistolary novel of 84 Charing Cross Road begins. For 20 years Helene maintains correspondence with Marks & Co., and particulalry with Frank.

During the time of their exchange, Britain was experiencing food rationing. Every man, woman and child was given a ration book with coupons. These were required before rationed goods could be purchased. Basic foodstuffs such as sugar, meat, fats, bacon and cheese were directly rationed by an allowance of coupons. Priority allowances of milk and eggs were given to those most in need - children, expectant mothers or invalids. Housewives had to register with particular retailers. As shortages increased, long queues became commonplace.

For many years, until the end of food rationing, Helene sent the employees of Marks & Co. food parcels. Hams, tinned food of varying kinds (including tongue), boxed eggs, chocolate, raisins and so on. These parcels used to be divied up among the employees and brought such great joy and happiness to them and their families. Nylons were a favourite of the Doel household; with Frank's wife and two daughters.

I delighted in reading this novel. I simply adored Helene. I could see a lot of myself in her. With her often acerbic comments, wit, generosity, kindness, and stubborness, she could be my identical twin! :) Even her reactions to receiving her beloved books were 'me to a tee'. I do wonder if I am a reincarnate of sorts.


- Me (taken Oct 2014) and Helene - a similarity, don't you think?

[As an aside, there is an enchanting exchange of letters between Helene Hanff and a fan that is refreshing to read, and demonstrates the type of woman that Helene was. http://freespace.virgin.net/angela.ga...]

I treasured the following quotes from Helene:
"I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest."

"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."

"The Book-Lovers' Anthology stepped out of its wrappings, all gold-embossed leather and gold-tipped pages, easily the most beautiful book I own including the Newman first edition. It looks too new and pristine ever to have been read by anyone else, but it has been: it keeps falling open at the most delightful places as the ghost of its former owner points me to things I've never read before."

"I houseclean my books every spring and throw out those I'm never going to read again like I throw out clothes I'm never going to wear again. It shocks everybody. My friends are peculiar about books. They read all the best sellers, they get through them as fast as possible, I think they skip a lot. And they NEVER read anything a second time so they don't remember a word of it a year later. But they are profoundly shocked to see me drop a book in the wastebasket or give it away. The way they look at it, you buy a book, you read it, you put it on the shelf, you never open it again for the rest of your life but YOU DON'T THROW IT OUT! NOT IF IT HAS A HARD COVER ON IT! Why not? I personally can't think of anything less sancrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book."
Helene had never been out of the USA and lived for the day when she could visit London. Frank, his wife and others, tried many times to get her to visit them, but some crisis or another, generally financial, did not afford her that luxury.

In a letter dated April 11, 1969, Helene wrote a letter to her friend, Katherine. In it she said:
"If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me! I owe it that much."
I will do that for Helene, the next time I am in London, as I'm sure thousands before me have done so, and thousands of others will do in the future.

Marks & Co. have long gone, and 84 Charing Cross Road has been many things since; a wine shop, a restaurant, to name but a few. But there is a plaque at the very spot in memory of the store. There is also a plaque in the US, at Charing Cross House, 305 East 72nd Street, New York, where Helene Hanff once lived.


- Plaques in the UK and US

This afternoon I read the reviews of this book by GR friends. They were all wonderful and expressed how I felt about the letters between Helene and Frank. One friend's review though, Trevor's, was especially poignant and moved me to conclude this review with his thoughts:

If you needed to be reminded that love of literature is as good a foundation of love of the world as any other 'religion', that the people we write to can be closer and dearer to us than those we see day after day - then this really is a book written to remind you of just that.
- GR friend: Trevor

Amen to that.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,323 followers
November 29, 2017
An easy 5 stars!

I listened to this lovely short audiobook. It's completely charming. The voices are perfect. And in an odd way it reminded me of what I love about Goodreads. Strangers connecting over their mutual love of books. Slowly the book focused repartee morphs into a real sense of affinity and frienship.

A bit of warmth to ease the dark cold days of November. A nice relief from the miserable state of world politics.

I'm late to this party, but I highly recommend it -- especially the audio.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,686 reviews14k followers
March 14, 2015
Loved every single page of this wonderful little novel, told in letters. The lost art of letter writing, but amazing how much we can tell of the relationship between the author in New York and a bookstore in London. Requesting books to be sent to her she makes the acquaintance of Frank Dole, his wife, his neighbor and other employees of the bookstore. Starts out as a purely business relationship we can tell letter by letter as they become more friendly, discussing their families, friends, jobs and other events going on in the world at the time, particularly the rationing that was still in place in London after the war.

Made me want to go out and buy a brand new gorgeous stationary set and write my friends some letters. Wonderful, wonderful book.
Profile Image for Annet.
570 reviews709 followers
February 8, 2020
A beautiful, sincere and humorous correspondence between a writer in New York (Helen) looking for unique books all the time and having them shipped over from Europe and a bookstore manager in London over the years.... Fun, nostalgic read with a smile.
Profile Image for Jean-Luke.
Author 1 book366 followers
December 25, 2020
March 16, 2020,

Dear HH,

America (and possibly the world) has gone mad. Rationing is a word that would get you a black eye if you mentioned it while waiting in today's mile-long line at the supermarket. You would think Armageddon is upon us from the carts and carts of groceries people are pushing to their cars, leaving the rest to scrape the broken eggs from the floor in aisle Nine, where that fight between two shoppers just took place. (The carnage would surely have been much greater if toilet paper was the prize.)

Where are you when we need you to set us all straight? I'm almost considering blackout windows just to keep the rest of humanity out of sight.

JS
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,279 reviews21.3k followers
August 22, 2008
I love this book and love the film they made of it too. It is sloppy and sweet and warm and, you know, just right. It is the sort of book one could read in an hour or two over a pot of tea on a cold winter's afternoon and just enjoy. Pure delight.

If you needed to be reminded that love of literature is as good a foundation of love of the world as any other 'religion', that the people we write to can be closer and dearer to us than those we see day after day - then this really is a book written to remind you of just that.
Profile Image for Kalliope.
682 reviews22 followers
April 1, 2021



Dear Mila,

When you gave me the large and heavy cubic box as my Christmas gift, with the red ribbon on top, I could not believe my eyes. What on earth had crossed your mind to offer me such a striking gift? And my wonder expanded as I opened it and realized the reason for the size. It was fool of a variety of goodies.

There was on top another parcel, a light one this time, of a round shape. When I unwrapped it, I had in my hands a Klein blue hat, in the shape of a 1920s bell. The colour of my coat!! Then there were three sachets of an assortment of nuts. There was also a smaller box with a set of envelopes and hand-made paper – for writing letters. I also discovered two trays of selected cheeses. One of which is a Pecorino with truffle.

I don’t think I have ever, since I was a child received what I would call of Treasure of surprises. A great part of the fun is precisely the discovery of the goodies – the surprise.

But the astonishment continued. There were also a couple of jam jars. One of a well-known Deli brand and the other clearly homemade. A decorated cardboard box contained a nice bunch of grapes – timely, given that in Spain the tradition is to eat twelve grapes when the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve. At the bottom of the box there was a lovely plate from the ceramic maker Vistalegre, with a design from the archives of the botanist José de Celestino for the Royal Botanical gardens. It shows a green plant with green and red leaves – similar to the Christmas poinsettia.

And tucked in the corner of the box there was this book. One I have been wanting to read for ages. The edition is a lovely one. Hardback with thick paper and large print.

So, I began to read it immediately and have finished it in two sittings.

I hope I will not finish the Pecorino and the rest of the cheeses in two sittings too.

84, Charing Cross Road is a beautiful book about books, and friendship, and gifts, and surprises and goodies, and letter writing – and it came to me embedded in precisely all those things.

This has been an unforgettable and much appreciated gift – there has been so much thought.

And as I finish the book and began considering writing this, I received an email with another gift from someone else who clearly knows my love for books.

I am to receive during 2021 twelve books, again as a surprise, from a bookshop in London that reminds of the Marks & Co, based on a questionnaire that will reveal to them my reading preferences. My curiosity will be stirred for a whole year....

This has been a tough 2020, but this Christmas is offering me sweet feelings of friendship – as they can be expressed through books and surprises - and this is a welcome closing and hopefully will begin a better period.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,145 reviews1,908 followers
May 4, 2018
This book is a complete delight. It is not a love story or a romance, but a series of letters between two book lovers from the late 1940s to the late 1960s. Helene Hanff is a lively and outspoken New Yorker who is unable to get hold of decently bound books, especially older and slightly more obscure ones. She answers an ad and contacts Marks and Co at 84 Charing Cross Road. There Frank Doel, a very proper English bookseller responds and starts to find and send her books from the lists she sends. Hanff’s friendliness, outspokenness and sheer vivacity gradually breaks down Frank Doel’s reserve and a friendships develops. Hanff sends to London difficult to find items to London which was still in the throes of rationing (mainly foodstuffs, but also nylons for the female employees). Gradually we also hear the voices of some of the other employees, Frank’s wife Nora and their elderly next door neighbour. There is a warmth and humanity here and a solid friendship based on books; something which should warm all our hearts.
There is also, of course, the film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. My edition has a preface by Anne Bancroft (her husband, Mel Brooks, bought the film rights for her, so she could play Hanff) and an introduction by Juliet Stevenson. What is most moving of course is that Hanff and Doel never met and the book came along after his death in the late 1960s and was an immediate hit. There has also been a play and a TV adaptation. There is a new adaptation of the play touring the UK at present starring Stephanie Powers and Clive Francis.
I really did love this, it’s a meeting of bookish minds, something done by letter, which we can now do much more easily on sites like this. Hanff keeps threatening to visit, but never makes it:
“You better watch out, I’m coming over there in ’53 if Ellery is renewed. I��m gonna climb up that Victorian book-ladder and disturb the dust on the top shelves and everybody’s decorum.”
Hanff’s wit and irreverence are a constant delight:
“I have these guilts about never having read Chaucer but I was talked out of learning Early Anglo-Saxon / Middle English by a friend who had to take it for her Ph.D. They told her to write an essay in Early Anglo-Saxon on any-subject-of-her-own-choosing. “Which is all very well,” she said bitterly, “but the only essay subject you can find enough Early Anglo-Saxon words for is ‘How to Slaughter a Thousand Men in a Mead Hall’.”
A comment on the arrival of a new book:
“The day Hazlitt came he opened to “I hate to read new books,” and I hollered “Comrade!” to whoever owned it before me.”
And on buying books in general:
“It’s against my principles to buy a book I haven’t read, it’s like buying a dress you haven’t tried on.”
One of my favourites!
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,849 reviews34.9k followers
May 11, 2012
I received this book in the mail (a surprise gift) -- so I read it 'on the spot'.

The book is only about 100 pages long --but a charming read (one I'm glad I read).

This is an older book (first published in 1970)....The year I graduated High School.

The author Helene Hanff, a freelance writer was living in New York City. She spent twenty years corresponding to a used book dealer in London. (they did not do this over the internet). ***SLOW MAIL***!
Though never meeting in person, they shared a common love for books.

This 'little' book is a collection of the letters between them. I had a lump in my throat! --- This little 'gem' warmed my heart!
Profile Image for ij.
212 reviews169 followers
December 5, 2014
This memoir was a great read. It consisted of letters primarily between Helene Hanff, the author, and Frank Doel, an employee of Marks and Company, Booksellers. The title of the book 84, Charing Cross Road was the address to the bookshop, in London. The letters started on October 5, 1949 and continued back and forth for almost twenty (20) years.

In the first letter, Ms. Hanff describes herself as a “poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books.” These books she thought to be too costly in New York City where she resided. She was seeking to purchase these type books from London for a lesser price, “no more than five (5) dollars each.”

Over the years, Ms. Hanff purchased many book and established a relationship with Doel, his wife, other employees of the bookshop, and even a neighbor of Doel’s.

Authors often write memoirs the way they remember and sometimes how the wished things had happened. I think that since the author here used letters there was less room for her to embellish her story.

Through reading the letters one gets a sense of history through the current events written about.
Profile Image for Piyangie.
504 reviews361 followers
March 28, 2022
This is an epistolary book that contains the correspondence between Helen Hanff, an American scriptwriter, and Marks & Co., a London second-hand book store at 84, Charing Cross Road. The chief correspondent on behalf of Mark and Co. is Frank Doyle and this correspondence continues faithfully for nearly two decades until the death of Frank.

The letters are charming and very interesting to read. They provide an insight into the friendship between Helen and Frank. It begins with a shared interest in books and later on develops into a more personal friendship which involves his wife and children too into corresponding with Helen. The readers can understand the characters of the writers through the letters, especially that of Helen and Frank. Helen struck me as a curious lady with a peculiar taste. She was a tough customer but had a generous and kind heart that warmed all hearts at Marks & Co. Frank was very English, but he was a good sport. I really enjoyed reading about their relationship and especially Helen's playful chiding when she becomes impatient for her requested books. The letter announcing Frank's death was the most emotional letter of all. I felt so sad for Helen; she never got the chance to meet him, "the blessed man to whom she owed much".

The story left me with both nostalgia and longing. When I was perusing my undergraduate degree, I ordered all my law books from Wildy & Sons Ltd, a law book store in London. I used to email them the book list with my credit card no (I wasn't familiar with online purchasing then) and within two weeks the books were at my doorstep. I remember a few times they recommend some books and included them in my order. I found them very useful and was very grateful for their attention. I had such an easy time getting all the books I needed thanks to them. It is such a long time ago, but these letters brought the memories back. And they also left me longing to find a Mark and Co. and a Frank Doyle for me. How nice would it be to correspond with a bookseller? I'll be over the moon, I'm sure. You were one lucky Lady, Helene, and I'm very jealous of you. :)
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,365 reviews784 followers
November 17, 2020
5★
If you love books and letters, this is the book for you! People have been interacting kind of anonymously for a long time, without dating apps or the internet. I used to handwrite letters back and forth to friends I seldom saw – now it’s emails and posts, but same banter, bluster, shared triumphs and tears.

This is the most charming, funny, and touching book about a 20-year, long-distance correspondence which starts out as a relatively simple book order. Helene Hanff, a New York writer herself, gets rid of books she’ll never read again, is particular about the quality she's looking for, and has specific reading tastes accompanied by a very modest budget.

The first letter, October 1949, is from Helene to Marks & Co at 84, Charing Cross Road, London, etc.

“Gentlemen:

Your ad in the Saturday Review of Literature says that you specialize in out-of-print books. The phrase ‘antiquarian booksellers’ scares me somewhat, as I equate ‘antique’ with expensive. I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books and all the things I want are impossible to get over here except in very expensive rare editions, or in Barnes & Nobles’ grim, marked-up schoolboy copies.

I enclose a list of my most pressing problems. If you have clean secondhand copies of any of the books on the list, for no more than $5.00 each, will you consider this a purchase order and send them to me?

Very truly yours,
Helene Hanff
(Miss) Helene Hanff”


Over the next few years, she corresponds with the staid Frank Doel (rhymes with Noel, he says), and as he and the staff take such particular care with her orders, she thanks them by arranging assorted food parcels (eggs, tinned meat, and the like) to be sent from Denmark – things they can’t get or are rationed in post-war England.

Many letters, books and gift parcels later (she sends dollar bills in envelopes to pay!), she seems to have befriended everyone in the office, and keeps promising to get to England to visit in person.

Then in 1955, she writes (her caps)

“DO YOU MEAN TO SIT THERE AND TELL ME YOU’VE BEEN PUBLISHING THESE MAMMOTH CATALOGUES ALL THESE YEARS AND THIS IS THE FIRST TIME YOU EVER BOTHERED TO SEND ME ONE? THOU VARLET?

Don’t remember which restoration playwright called everybody a Varlet, I always wanted to use it in a sentence.”


A part that particularly touched me, because I’ve always loved reading my dad’s books with all his notes in the margin (American Lit professor, couldn’t help himself), was when she wrote:

“I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages some one long gone has called my attention to.”

I actually read a scan of a tattered copy of this, which rather nicely lent itself to the subject matter of old letters. It was kind of like reading someone else's dog-eared favourite.

Absolutely delightful to watch the uninhibited Hanff gradually loosen up the stiff-upper-lipped bookstore people (and their families) and charm her way into their everyday lives. And vice-versa.

Absolutely one of my favourite books now. Pity it's so short.
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1,176 reviews1,066 followers
May 8, 2019
An endearing little book and quick and easy read. I enjoyed it but not one for my favourite shelf.

I have wanted to read this book for years as it has such amazing review and I just never came across a hard copy but found an audible version and went with that. Not sure audible is the best format for a book where the content is a series of letters back and forth as they performance seemed quite repetitive. However I do love the “ old snail mail” format and have just one Aunt who still corresponds with letters every couple of months and while its a dying art, it is one I very much enjoy.

First published in 1970, a non fiction story of twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York City, and a used-book dealer in London. Through the years, though never meeting and separated both geographically and culturally, they share a winsome, sentimental friendship based on their common love for books.

I enjoyed the two different characters and really liked their correspondence. A quick, witty and entertaining read and while I liked it, its not one for my favourites shelf.
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