84, Charing Cross Road, published in 1970, is constructed from a collection of correspondence between the author, Helene Huff and with the employees of Marks & Co., a London bookseller, a used-book store in England. What initially starts as very much a business correspondence, between the rather outspoken Hanff and the more reserved employee of Mars & Co., Frank Doel, from October 1949 becomes a friendship through letters and a love of books that lasts over twenty years.
Having seen an advert for Marks & Co, describing them as specialists in out-of-print books, Hanff wrote to them with a wish list of titles she’d been unable to acquire in New York. “I am a poor writer with an antiquarian taste in books,” she explained. “If you have clean second-hand copies of any of the books on the list, for no more than $5 each, will you consider this a purchase order and send them to me?”
For months, she sent the shop further orders and more books were dispatched to her. Then in December she had a surprise for Marks & Co. Having heard about the food rationing in effect in Britain, Hanff sent the staff “a small Christmas present” of foodstuffs most Brits hadn’t seen for years, including a large ham. In Charing Cross Road, the staff of Marks & Co. were deeply moved by this gesture from a woman they had never met, 3,500 miles away. At Easter she delighted them again, with a parcel containing real eggs, their first in many years of making do with the powdered variety. And so began a more personal, more affectionate transatlantic relationship. Soon Hanff was exchanging letters not only with Doel, but with his kindly Irish wife, Nora, as well as the rest of the team at Marks & Co.
It is a delightful read and will capture anyone’s heart. The astonishing thing about this story is that it is real. It exists int he memory of Hanff and the staff of Marks & Co. of 1970s and the Doel family, and of course in letters exchanged between them.
The reader will be delighted by the amount of pages the book has and is a perfect read for a short distraction time period and should be considered an essential part of ‘Books about Books’ category.
3 out of 5