84, Charing Cross Road


Helen Hanff

I heard about this book through the years and finally tossed it into my Amazon cart when I placed another order.  I suggest you order the Duchess of Bloomsbury Street at the same time because you must read these two books back-to-back to get the full impact of Helene Hanff’s thinking and experiences.

Helene Hanff is a talented yet unsuccessful playwright barely scraping by in New York City.  She loves reading obscure books and writes to Marks & Co. in the UK to obtain a copy of a book.  This initial outreach near the end of 1949 results in correspondence for the next 20 years.  Helene starts her interaction with Frank Doel one of the bookshop clerks.  Helene has a quirky sense of humor that Mr. Doel buys into.  Over the years Frank’s signoff goes from FPD to Frank Doel to Frank. demonstrating the budding friendship.

During her correspondence, Helene learns that UK citizens are still facing significant rationing five years after World War II has ended and she sends the staff meat, eggs and other treats at Christmas and Easter.  These acts of kindness result in correspondence with other staff members, each of whom are concerned about upsetting Frank who prizes his blossoming friendship with Helene.

Helene’s letter are short and funny – writing in all caps when she is yelling (in jest of course).  The books she requests are obscure until she asks for Pride and Prejudice and she falls in love with the book.  The way Helene teases Frank is endearing.  A constant theme through the correspondence is when will Helene get to England to meet Frank, his family and the other employees. I won’t spoil the outcome.

The book only takes a few hours to read since it is less than 100 pages long.  So save it for a single sitting and remember to save time for the next chapter – The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.