On Our Bookshelves: 84, Charing Cross Road

BOOK: 84, Charing Cross Road

AUTHOR: Helene Hanff



This book consists of a series of letters between Helene Hanff, a writer in New York City, and Frank Doel, an antique bookseller in London, beginning in 1949, and ending in 1969 when Ms. Hanff learned of Mr. Doel’s untimely death.


Now, twenty years worth of correspondence concerning the purchase of English literature certainly does not sound like it would make for an interesting read. However, the relationship they developed, based initially on their love for books, became an enduring long-distance friendship. And they wrote about their families, the other employees at the bookshop, Ms. Hanff’s career as a television writer, and the many packages of gifts (including Christmas and Easter treats, and much-in-demand nylon stockings) she sent over to help make up for Britain’s post-WWII rationing and food shortages.  Also, how to make Yorkshire pudding, and this new band called the Beatles (if only their fans didn’t scream so).


Sadly, Helen Hanff waited too long to visit her English pen pal, and so the two of them never met in person. Regardless, they had a true meeting of the minds, and if you love books, you should definitely check out this true story of kindred spirits separated by geography.

Actually, first read this delightful book. (It’s under a hundred pages and won’t take too long.) Then see the movie (a charming 1987 film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins). And then, maybe, explore some of the classics they discussed over the years…Pride and Prejudice, Tristram Shandy, John Donne’s Sermons, the diary of Samuel Pepys, The Canterbury Tales, and dozens more.  (And, if you’ve a dear friend you’ve been meaning to visit…please do not put it off for too long!)


If you can’t get enough of Helene Hanff and her adventures, she wrote a sequel about the trip she finally did make to London, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which is the story of her adventures meeting Frank Doel’s family and some other literary admirers, seeing the sights, and experiencing the literary England that she’d longed for.  It’s not quite as good as its predecessor, but it’s a sweet tale, nonetheless.


RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 4 Whistles





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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com


Image Courtesy of 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com