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Group reads > 84, Charing Cross Road (spoilers)

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message 1: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This book is among my very favorites. Let the discussion begin.

message 2: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) I (finally) read this a few weeks back right after it won in the poll. I'd been meaning to read it for years but kept procrastinating.

I simply loved it! I have always adored epistolary works, be they fiction or collections of letters, and this one was delightful.

I'm not yet fully awake this morning, but one thing that springs to my mind: Watching the trailer for the movie adaptation, it is clear that although they kept a lot of the dialogue verbatim, they shifted focus of the story to make it seem like a (budding, hopeful) romance, whereas in the book, it is clear in the book that Frank Doel is a devoted family man. I haven't seen the film, but I wonder if they jettison his wife and daughters altogether or if the various women in the book have simply marked him as ripe for philandery, or at least for daydream fodder? Or was the flirtation more pronounced in the book than it seemed to me? (For those who haven't seen it, here's the trailer for the film.)

message 3: by Hayes (last edited Jun 01, 2012 07:54AM) (new)

Hayes (hayes13) I've never seen the film, but I have read the book 2 or 3 times. Given the trailer, they did push the love interest a bit in the film. I remember in the book that there was the sense that while Frank was a family man, he truly enjoyed having a not-so-secret admirer across the Atlantic. And his female colleagues were more interested in seeing his reserve broken down. The wife was a bit of a wet rag, was she not?

message 4: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen I haven't seen the trailer but I did see the film, but only after reading the book, which I loved. Thanks so much for suggesting the book, as I doubt I would have come upon it on my own. It is a treasure and is now a favorite of mine. I've already recommended it to friends. The film, in my opinion, was perfectly cast. I'm going to watch the trailer now. Thank you for posting the link.

message 5: by Angela (new)

Angela (bookangel2) | 26 comments Candiss wrote: "I (finally) read this a few weeks back right after it won in the poll. I'd been meaning to read it for years but kept procrastinating.

I simply loved it! I have always adored epistolary works, b..."

Thank you for the link to the trailer. I haven't seen the film or read the book yet, but am looking forward to picking it up over the weekend. I think I'm going to enjoy it!

message 6: by Ivan (last edited Jun 01, 2012 09:36AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
The film is an almost perfect translation from page to screen. If anything the character of Nora is fleshed out - and she's played by Dame Judi Dench. There is no love interest between Frank and Helene whatsoever - none at all.

This little book has left an indelible mark on my heart. This book is just the perfect storm for me - length and subject. I love the era, the book love (not just reading but being around books, the library, haunting old book shops - being with the books) and also letter writing. I have a couple of pen pals - my favorite is my friend Edel in Ireland (oh, how I long to jump on a plane and surprise her). I love most English things, and NYC too.

I found a hardbound edition at Powell's (in Portland, OR) that I would run into a burning house to save. I have a couple paperbacks, a copy of the play script, a book on CD recording, and the film.

message 7: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod

Another great moment from the film.

message 8: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen Now that's a beautiful scene!

There are so many things I love about this book. The friendships, the writing, Helene's humor, the way the personalities of the correspondents come though so clearly in their letters, and, of course, the longing for things lost and for things that may never be. In the film, Anthony Hopkins conveys the latter perfectly with just a facial experssion.

I appreciate that the film didn't tamper with the friendship between Helene and Frank. I watched the trailer and I do think it's a little misleading.

message 9: by Candiss (new)

Candiss (tantara) I'm glad to know the film stays true to the book. (I really must see it now!) I can imagine why they did it, but I really wish they hadn't slanted the trailer like that. The story's strong enough to stand on its own without hinting at a more romantic note.

In the book, I loved that there was a definite love between the main characters, but while there was a bit of flirting, it wasn't really a romantic love story. An intellectual connection can be strong and valid without romance, and this novella displayed such a relationship beautifully.

message 10: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Hollywood...what can you do?

...The longing for things lost....that could be what my heart responds to most.

message 11: by Ivan (last edited Jun 02, 2012 06:27AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
The phrase "antiquarian booksellers" scares me somewhat, as I equate "antique" with expensive.

Me too. I remember looking for a book by William Saroyan...I called around to different shops in the Los Angeles area (where I was living at the time). One shop owner simply asked: "Are you a collector, or a reader?" I said: "a reader." He then informed me that he wouldn't have anything for me as his stock was made up of collectibles and priced accordingly. I wasn't saved me a trip on the bus.

I have never been impressed by "first editions" or fancy leather bound books. Give me something well bound that isn't going to fall apart as I read it.

message 12: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
How appropriate on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee that there is a scene in our book of her coronation 60 years ago. God Save the Queen.

message 13: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 76 comments I can't wait for my copy to arrive - expecting it in a few days. Looks like this is going to be annother good one for discussion...

message 14: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Thank you for the links posted. I didn't know there was a movie of this, and now I know, I also am reassured that it is true to the book as well. Two bits of good news!
Lately my family and I have been enjoying several Anthony Hopkins movies of this sort- we call them our Howard's End series.
I started the novella a bit early- the end of May. I couldn't stay out of it, and read in bed which is a bad place for me because I stay awake when I need my sleep. I finished the book while sitting inside Roadside America in the Reading, Pa area. Has anyone been there? It was quite the place to be reading such a book, almost as good as sitting in an old bookshop. Roadside America is a huge railroad/ miniature village display built in the fifties. It is exquisitely detailed and the place has its unique ambiance with music playing and a sweetly patriotic might show where the lights go down and the little houses (thousands of them) light up. They even have Kate Smith singing 'God Bless America'. I have been there before, so I looked around some, but the Call of the Book within the Purse was more insistent. I capitalize that only because I have experienced it enough times to feel there really ought to be a real term for it, but I haven't got one yet.
I appreciate what Candiss said about the friendship between the characters. As much as I enjoy a romantic development, I tire of seeing every relationship go that way in movies, for instance, and many books. Just think if we thought all relationships had to lead to platonic relationships? Neither extreme would satisfy.

message 15: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 03, 2012 09:01PM) (new)

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the very different personalities that were Frank and Helene. He tried to maintain his proper British bookseller persona, and she made it so personal and informal almost from the beginning. It was fun watching Frank change over the course of their correspondence.

message 16: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Oh, that was fun to read. He was trying to maintain the appearance of a certain typical English gent while she went into such delightful spirited rants that broke too many rules of behavior not to be charming. That was a real pleasure to read.

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Just imagine what he must have thought of that American woman in New York!

message 18: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 126 comments I loved how the story is of not-so-stereotypical people, but Hanff presented it to feel like the most comfortable story about people who could just be your neighbors or a part of your family -- such a basic, honest story of people interacting. Because don't forget it was not run-of-the-mill for a woman to be earning her own living as a writer in 1950s U.S., nor was it average to run an antiquarian book shop and be so well-read as Frank Doel.

message 19: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod the dates. It "seems" like the replys came swiftly...yet some of the letters tooks weeks and months. I enjoyed the brevity of the letters too.

message 20: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) SarahC: great points.
Ivan: I had problems with the brevity because as a rule, I write letters that go on for pages. But as I read on in the book, I enjoyed all that was said so succinctly, and of course, what I imagined wasn't being said right out. Helene especially packed a punch in her short letters.
I really could never presume to change such a book in any way. Short was sweet!
I have a question that might require spoilers: What happened to Cecily? Or do I have to wait until the end of the month to ask?

message 21: by Edel (new)

Edel (edellittlebookfairy) | 71 comments I have loved this book for a very long time. I first came across it in a second hand bookshop when I was 16. It had the cover that looked like an envelope and I sat down that night after work and read the entire thing. The next night I did the same. I have read it at least once every year since then. The dvd I have two copies of and three of the book.I have just found so many reasonsto love it through the years. It was just such a simple letter asking about books that led to this life long friendship and filled these peoples lives with joy. Even though they never met they formed a closeness that as the letters progressed became more apparant.They got to know each others family friends and workmates and it got to the point where you forget they never actually met as they chat like old friends who knew each other every day of their life. It was a beautiful friendship and that is all it was but there was care and love there. Frank's wife Nora also wrote to Helene on occasion and later met when Helene visited England. There was no jealousy there. They were two people who both enjoyed books and had a respect for them and as they both found out, you meet the nicest people though a love of books.

message 22: by Edel (new)

Edel (edellittlebookfairy) | 71 comments Did anyone else adore the discription of the books?? In Helene's hands they were worth more then diamonds, she may not have been well off by any means but these old books filled her with happiness.
Her reaction to each book that she sent was very amusing . No reply went to Frank without an amusing story or an ear bashing but I bet he enjoyed it all the same.

message 23: by Hayes (last edited Jun 06, 2012 11:10PM) (new)

Hayes (hayes13) I loved the bit about older books and writing in the margins, etc. -- I don't have my copy in front of me now, so I'm trying to remember -- knowing what previous owners read most often and the notes and messages she finds. I so agree. I hate underlining in books, but I like finding a small comment every now and then.

message 24: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Edel, I loved your account of your relationship with this book! How many books do we remember that first read, or the growing depth of our love for the story as we read and re-read? And you're right, helene's descriptions of the books were positively scandalous. I wanted to run out and buy old books.
Oh, and the part about seeing how the book falls open- that was clever!

message 25: by Edel (new)

Edel (edellittlebookfairy) | 71 comments Yes to the page previous owners loved most.... Wonderful!!!!

message 26: by Ivan (last edited Jun 20, 2012 02:20PM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Lora wrote: "Edel, I loved your account of your relationship with this book! How many books do we remember that first read, or the growing depth of our love for the story as we read and re-read? And you're righ..."

I, on the contrary, did NOT want to run out and read what Helene was reading....I fear she was smarter than me and the titles she and Quiller-Couch came up with are simply over my head.

With fifty years of memory on my brain's hard-drive, I can't actually remember when I first came across this volume. I do know that it has had a profound effect on my life.

When I was in High School I made a life long friend in one of my teachers (Eleanor). She was a mentor. I went to Washington DC for a summer when I was 17 and we started corresponding. My da had a studio apartment directly behind the Supreme Court Building and so I'd hang out at the Library of Congress - they had a gift shop with unique greeting cards. To this day I am fanantical about unique greeting cards - I can't pass up a shop with cards. Eleanor and my other mentor lady friend Vene no longer send cards or letters - e-mail has ruined that part of our relationship. However, I have a gentleman friend in Arizona who writes, as does my special friend Edel in Ireland (who you've been chatting with in this thread).

Not only do I enjoy finding little comments in the margins, I love finding little gifts left as bookmarks - theatre tickets, movie stubbs, receipts and most commonly bookmarks for the bookshop that sold the book originally.

One time I got a call from my friend Ben - he was in a used bookstore. He was browsing and picked up a book and found a postcard the previous owner had used as a bookmark. Of course he read was addressed to me! He called me in shock. I love stories like that. In fact, there is an entire book about items found in books called Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller's Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages - it's not great literature, but it's fun to browse through.

message 27: by Hayes (new)

Hayes (hayes13) Oh, wow... what a great story! Serendipity!!

message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

Hayes wrote: "Oh, wow... what a great story! Serendipity!!"

I agree! :)

I've bought several used books that had inscriptions from the giver to the recipient, and I wonder how they could have parted with a book from grandma. I'm much too sentimental to give up a book like that.

I also love to write and receive letters, but the email has replaced this art for most people. I did receive a lovely letter from the young son of a GR friend this week, such a pleasant surprise!

message 29: by Ivan (last edited Jun 07, 2012 06:51AM) (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
I loved how Helene sent food parcels while England was still rationing. Can anyone of our British friends tell us Yanks why they rationed food so long after the war? Why was food more plentiful in Denmark? I've always wondered about that.

The joy those parcels brought to Frank and his shop workers was so well portrayed. It's really hard for me and people of my generation in America (especially) to wrap our minds around doing without. I watch a lot of "House Hunters International" on HGTV and am blown away by the little refrigerators throughout Europe; they must think we in America are getting ready for the acopalypse.

message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

I can only speak for the Germans, but people typically buy fresh every day in Germany. When I first moved there, my husband had a nice apartment, with a dorm type fridge. I talked him into buying me a decent refrigerator (smaller than what you typically see in US apartments) and my MIL dubbed it "the American" refrigerator. Now, she has two refrigerators, but she still shops every day. No ice cubes in Germany, either, even at McDonalds. Cold liquids are bad for your stomach!

message 31: by Edel (last edited Jun 07, 2012 09:19AM) (new)

Edel (edellittlebookfairy) | 71 comments I thought the food packages she sent to Marks and Co was so thoughtful .It may not have cost a huge amount but the thought that went into it would really lift your spirit. Helene was so thrilled with the beautiful table cloth she was sent too and then she wrote to Frank's neighbour to thank her..
It is wonderful thinking of all the letters and parcels going back and forth across the ocean from America to England and all the happiness they brought to those who recieved them and who they shared them with .My friend in this group Ivan and I cut back on our writing to each other on email and facebook as you do lose alot of the conversation firing out emails .. Letters and cards you have for a lifetime and can look back on them and cherish them..If email was around during Frank and Helene's time we may not have had this wonderful book to read.
I thought it was wonderful that Helene saw that ad that Marks and Co put in as an advert about antiquarian books. Look at what Frank and Helene would have lost out on if she had not written to them- A life long friendship and someone to share her love of reading.

message 32: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 76 comments My copy arrived today - I've already read the first few letters up to page 30. What a lovely book. - My copy comes with a second story called Duchess of Bloomsbury Street - does anyone elses copy come with the extra treat?

Why did rationing last so long? - I was taught that, as an island nation it was very difficult to 'feed' the nation when our supply ships were torpedoed so often. This meant that every square metre of land was given over to allotments and 'growing your own'. Plus all of the factories and the infrastructure of food production was thrown into dissarray during the war as the factories were mostly given over to munitions and war production. To re-build the infrastructure required jobs first, such as in steelmaking, foundrys etc - food production was lower down the list of priorities at that time and took a while to re-establish. Also, as victors, the UK had responsibilities to the smaller nations in Europe whose infrastructure had all but collapsed (there was massive inflation etc) and so much of the food produced was shared via export.

message 33: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Thanks Ally.

I've read "Duchess..." and a few others by Hanff. After "84," "Letter from New York" is my favorite.

message 34: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) Ivan, that was a fun story to read. Was there a date? How old was the card?
Edel, I hadn't considered that- how email at an earlier age would have made such a book impossible. And just think if they had published the emails? Emails lack a certain amount of color.
I love writing letters, too. An old room mate from college and I write pretty much every week. It has changed the pace of my days and caused me to think in a different way. I'm glad I took it up again.
My mom lived through the Great Depression and WWII and tells me stories of the things that were rationed. When my grandma died we found ration cards she had saved from then. I always thought it had been bad here, and it was certainly difficult, but dang, compared to Europe and England, the US must've looked pretty well off!

message 35: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Lora wrote: "Ivan, that was a fun story to read. Was there a date? How old was the card?
Edel, I hadn't considered that- how email at an earlier age would have made such a book impossible. And just think if the..."

It wasn't so very old. Still, it was funny that it was a friend of mine who'd found the book at the store I donated it to.

message 36: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) It's also hard to imagine what England was like then. They had been bombed and bombed and bombed...warehouses, factories, roads, houses, waterworks, it was in shambles. Not only did they have to find ships for bringing supplies in, but they had to rebuild their infrastructure and start producing again. And all that with fewer men to do the labor.
It says a lot about Helene that she started sending such essentials and less-than-essentials as she reached out across the ocean to these people.

message 37: by Edel (new)

Edel (edellittlebookfairy) | 71 comments Lora wrote: "It's also hard to imagine what England was like then. They had been bombed and bombed and bombed...warehouses, factories, roads, houses, waterworks, it was in shambles. Not only did they have to fi..."

Yes. she was a lovely thoughtful person for doing that. I can only imagine how happy they were to get all the things she sent when they must not have eaten those things in a very long time.. It must have tasted soooo good.

message 38: by Craig (new)

Craig | 30 comments Every bit as charming as people told me. So glad I finally read it. I was also happy to find Hanff finally made it to England and am looking forward to reading the memoir, Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.

message 39: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
You will enjoy it as well...Q's Legacy continues the story.

message 40: by Craig (new)

Craig | 30 comments Thanks Ivan I didn't know about Q's Legacy.

message 41: by Ally (new)

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 76 comments I loved this book but I'm afraid I can't get on board with her opinion about fiction...

"...anything he liked i'll like except if its fiction. i never can get interested in things that didn't happen to people who never lived." (9th Feb 1952)

message 42: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Craig wrote: "Thanks Ivan I didn't know about Q's Legacy."

Letter from New York BBC Woman's Hour Broadcasts by Helene Hanff Letter from New York: BBC Woman's Hour Broadcasts is my second favorite. Little stories of NYC. I sent this to a friend who lived there from the late 1950s to the early 1970s - and she cried...she could recall almost everything Helene wrote about from neighborhoods and buildings to actual events.

message 43: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Ally wrote: "I loved this book but I'm afraid I can't get on board with her opinion about fiction...

"...anything he liked i'll like except if its fiction. i never can get interested in things that didn't happ..."

Can't imagine a reading life without great fiction.

message 44: by SarahC (new)

SarahC (sarahcarmack) | 126 comments Lora wrote: "It's also hard to imagine what England was like then. They had been bombed and bombed and bombed...warehouses, factories, roads, houses, waterworks, it was in shambles. Not only did they have to fi..."

For some reason, the mainstream of education may not have left us in the U.S. with a true portrait of the world wars. It is only through my own reading the past few years that I understood the destruction that existed in England, France, Germany, etc. I think I was reading about France - crops, hedges, trees, etc. wiped clean. I am sure farm equipment and farm structures the same. We have not experienced a war fought in our country since the 19th century so we tend not to think of those details of war.

It was lovely that Helene wanted to provide her English friends with some small comforts to show she cared. I think it is the thoughtfulness of these relationships that is the most impressive thing of the story.

message 45: by Lora (new)

Lora (lorabanora) I had only heard there were sequels, I plan on looking for those now.
And that is something I have to comment on: Helene's tastes in books definitely is not my own! I'm more of a fiction reader. However, she still described them in such a way that they became so beautiful in my mind. Her love of books transcends genres.
I'll just pretend she wanted Jane Eyre and, oh, say, Beowulf.

message 46: by Craig (new)

Craig | 30 comments Lora wrote: "I had only heard there were sequels, I plan on looking for those now.
And that is something I have to comment on: Helene's tastes in books definitely is not my own! I'm more of a fiction reader. Ho..."

Ha ha I am with you there Lora. I was familiar with some of the usual suspects, (Austen, Chaucer, Donne) but most of her selections were completely unfamiliar.

message 47: by Angela (last edited Jun 10, 2012 03:39AM) (new)

Angela (bookangel2) | 26 comments I loved this book! It contained so much that I hold dear - the love of books, the need to own books, the conversations about books with likeminded people...and the kindness and thoughtfulness that permeated the pages of this gem.
I loved Helene's humour and remarks about books. Like several others who have commented, I don't agree with her thoughts about fiction and would say that her taste in reading matter only barely reflects mine. ( I do have a hardback copy of Handl's Messiah - music and words!) I also loved the way that Frank Doel's "englishness" shone through. His reserve is so typical of many of my fellow countrymen!
It's so interesting to read the comments on the book, especially from the American members - a different perpective is great. I was born in London in 1949, so rationing played a part in my early life. I remember my mother's delight when we came off rationing. I also recall the bombsites which were a feature of the time - interesting playgrounds for the older children who were allowed out. I had a friend who had a corrugated iron bomb shelter in her back garden - an interesting little playhouse!

I borrowed the book from the library; now I need to buy it!!

message 48: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod
Angela, your words truly communicate your appreciation, in all our appreciation, of this special little book. So, so happy you've fallen in love with it too.

message 49: by Ivan (new)

Ivan | 2166 comments Mod

This is a site that may interest some. It provides a history of the place and the people who worked there.

message 50: by Edel (new)

Edel (edellittlebookfairy) | 71 comments Thanks for posting this Ivan :0)

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