84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had heard of this little book so often, and it had been on my to-read list for so long, I finally sought it out at the library and read it in one sitting.
The book is a true story, written in "epistolary" form...in other words, in the form of letters back and forth between a young Manhattan scriptwriter and a secondhand bookshop in London, starting in 1949 and spanning 20 years.
It's really amazing how much of Helene's personality comes through in her letter-writing. Her feistiness and irrepressible sense of humor dance through every letter she writes to Marks and Company. She can't resist teasing the somewhat restrained Frank Doel, who is the main corresponder from the bookstore.
As months and years pass, though, the relationship between Hanff and the bookstore staff grow into much more than a business relationship. Early on, when she realizes they're suffering from postwar food shortages, Hanff starts sending them much-appreciated care packages. Her warmth and generosity open up a world of friendship.
The book vividly illustrates how people on opposite sides of the world can reach out to each other and become real friends, despite the fact that they don't actually get to see each other. And how cool that it was happening even before the days of e-mail and instant messaging!
Given my love of bookstores and all things English, reading this little book was definitely worth the short time I spent reading and enjoying it.
Spoiler Alert: The story ends after the sudden death of Frank, who Helene never got to meet. It made me sad that Hanff didn't fulfill her long-time promise of visiting her friends in England until after her friend Frank had died. However, she later did make it across the pond to meet Frank's wife Nora and his daughters, with whom she had also become great friends.
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