This year I’m participating in a book club organized by the public library of my hometown. We started in October and we meet every Tuesday: one meeting to discuss a certain book and the next week’s meeting is for watching a film, sometimes related to the book we have read before.
Well, this week we read and discussed 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff; a book I had already read years ago, but that I had no problem in re-reading, since is a charming story told through the letters sent by its characters.
Helene Hanff, a young and enthusiastic script writer, comes in contact in 1949 with the bookshop Marks & Co., in London, to request some titles she can’t find in good conditions in the bookshops of the city where she lives, New York. This is the beginning of a 20-year correspondence that you will never forget.
Helene’s letters are remarkable for their spontaneity, while Frank’s, the bookshop manager, are all British politeness. But despite their different personalities, they establish a lasting friendship which, little by little, is going to include all the book shop assistants and their families. Helene’s career as a writer is not very successful: she lives in an apartment without heating and most of the basic furniture – her books are stacked in boxes which once were for oranges – but food was rationed in Britain for several years after WWII, and she preferred sending them some basic food and keep on living in poverty than let her new friends be in need. You will get moved by Helene’s generosity.
And, of course, they talk about books. Helene’s requests are quite specific and I don’t know the majority of the books she purchased, but we get to know her strange habits when reading, because she only reads essays and poetry; or her thoughts about owning so many books, which are quite interesting. This is a book every book lover should read, seriously.
If only the story had a happy ending!
Finally, I want to talk to you about coincidences: I spent 5 days in London at the beginning of December and I went to Charing Cross to take a photograph of the plaque, which is all that is left from Marks and Co. nowadays, apart from this book. When I came back home, the book club was about to read it 😉