If you haven't read 84, Charing Cross Road then you MUST GO READ IT IMMEDIATELY. I had never even heard of this book or this author until I read the review of it in SF where my interest was piqued. The book consists of letters sent between Helene who lived in New York and a man named Frank Doel who worked at an antiquarian bookstore called Marks and Co in London. The first letter was sent by Helene in 1949 and their correspondence continued for 20 years. Eventually, other coworkers from the store would start writing letters to Helene and she would develop a friendship with Frank's wife and daughters. I was so moved by these letters. They were real and beautiful. Helene is hilarious and crotchety. Frank comes across as uptight and somewhat aloof (until Helene breaks him of that). The second half of this book which was not a part of the original print...well I don't want to spoil it for you. Let's just say that it was extraordinarily easy for me to see myself in Helene's place. This is a woman that wrote from the heart and it's like...gosh. Ya'll I can't find the words to describe just how much I loved this book. I want to start right back at the beginning and I just closed the back cover. This has high rereadability. (Google tells me that isn't a real word but I refuse to believe that.) Go forth, readers. You won't regret it. 11/10
This rather hefty tome contains five of Hanff's works: Underfoot in Show Business; 84, Charing Cross Road (the famous one about the bookshop); The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (84's sequel); Apple of My Eye; and Q's Legacy, all non-fiction (she never got the hang of fiction).
Overall, it was a pleasant enough read - light and occasionally quite funny. Hanff's writing is readable, engaging and easy to read, but nothing really beyond that. It gets a little wearing after 500 pages; it just feels a bit insubstantial, a bit inconsequential. Give me a thick novel any day.
Underfoot in Show Business is an account of Hanff's failed attempts to break into playwriting. Interesting mainly for its details about 40s and 50s American showbusiness.
84, Charing Cross Road is a collection of letters between Hanff and the bookshop Marks and Co, Charing Cross Road, London. She sent them food packages during wartime rationing in England; they sent her books. It's charming, but not very substantial.
The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street sees Hanff finally visiting London, after her beloved bookshop has closed down. As an American, she's bewildered by England, which is quite interesting to read.
Apple of My Eye was my favourite: Hanff is commissioned to write the copy for a guidebook to New York and panics when she realises she doesn't know anything a tourist would want to know, despite having lived there practically all her life. She travels around New York seeing the sights with her friend Patsy, also a longtime resident. It's often very funny, if occasionally too heavy on the geography.
Q's Legacy apparently focuses on Hanff's interest in Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a Cambridge lecturer whose books she claimed taught her to write. It felt a bit unfocused, covering a trip to London, an experience with cataracts and the play Oklahoma!; I feel like it was the weakest of the five.
The fact that this whole story did happen in reality was something so overwhelming that nothing else mattered much. Though they had shared everything through letters yet the only regret for me was that Helene and Frank could not meet in person till the end.
I loved Helene's sense of humor. I liked how boldly she use to make her point without hesitation. In fact i was happy to know i am not the only one who buys book after reading it.
Also, two things i learnt from this book or rather from Helene is that.. Firstly, There is no harm in buying secondhand books in fact sometimes its useful. Secondly , this quote
“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……’ ‘ ..…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 sacrosanct than a bad book or even a mediocre book.”
So I think like her even i am going to giveaway those books which i will never read ever again in my life.
This book was a birthday gift to me (from myself). I enjoyed reading it while travelling.