Tag Archives: Helene Hanff

Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (4/5)

22 Aug

I can’t remember where I heard about this book. I think it may have been after I read Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn and I had a brief fascination with epistolary novels. This one is wonderful, quick and cutting to the soul. It was a great pool-side read for my recent vacation.

Cover image via Goodreads

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Summary from Goodreads:

This charming classic, first published in 1970, brings together twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York City, and a used-book dealer in London. Through the years, though never meeting and separated both geographically and culturally, they share a winsome, sentimental friendship based on their common love for books. Their relationship, captured so acutely in these letters, is one that will grab your heart and not let go.

I didn’t expect such a short book to have so much of an impact on me. Hanff has an amazing way with words. You can feel her implied tone in her letters and you get a great sense of her personality. When the correspondence expands to include other employees of the shop and Frank’s family, you can feel the impact this relationship has had on their community. Hanff’s generosity was so unexpected in their post-war London and it went a long way to winning their affection.

Hanff had the most personality in her letters and I adored reading one from her. The others were a bit harder to distinguish and I had to look at who signed the letter when I started reading it so I would know who was speaking. Hanff’s sarcasm, manor, and energy screamed from the page, it was wonderful.

Nora was my favorite character. She didn’t have the personality of Hanff, but she had a deep appreciation for the relationship Hanff and Frank shared. She wasn’t jealous and was very appreciative of what Hanff could do for her family and friends. I’d like to hope that the relationship continued on after the book ended.

The love of books the characters shared was mesmerizing for a book lover. I also loved the idea of a store always on the lookout for a beautiful edition of a rare book and I kept picturing myself combing through a second-hand store or a personal library looking for a buried gem. It sounds like such a fun and exciting job. Funny enough, this book was a bit hard for me to find a copy of and I ended up locating it in a second-hand shop a year after I started looking for it.

Helene Hanff
Image via Hogglestock

The food that Hanff sent to her friends was so incredibly described. I can’t imagine living in a city with such strict food rations and how great of a gift an egg could be. The selflessness of her gifts and the frequency of them showed her nature and it made me want to be friends with someone who could so generously give of herself. I think the British members of this story were a little lost on how they could repay such generosity.

It was clear there were a good number of missing letters. Large stretches of time would pass and there would be references to letters we didn’t read or books that were never requested. I’m unsure if this is due to lost letters or selection. I hope it’s loss and Hanff isn’t holding back on us!

The friendship these virtual strangers formed is beautiful. They bonded over a love of books and stayed together over a genuine desire to care for other human beings. Hanff is a beautiful soul and is lucky to have found kindred spirits through a love of writing. Friendships formed over a deep love for something can be very strong. I think we can all think of a similarly deep relationship.

Writer’s Takeaway: The letters Hanff shares are beautiful and personal. I loved that she shared getting permission to publish them at the end of the book. The journey doesn’t end until publication. The relationship Helene and Frank shared and the way it expanded to those around them was beautiful and I loved how she showed it’s growth. I think Hanff realized she had something special. I’m glad she published it for others to enjoy.

A beautiful picture of friendship and a love of books. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff | Fill Your Bookshelf
Recent Reads: 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff | Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings
Books Ordered by Helene Hanff, from 84 Charing Cross Road | The Point-Claire Public Library Blog
84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff | The Compulsive Overreader
84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff | From Isi

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WWW Wednesday, 21-August-2019

21 Aug

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: Despite good goals, I got through very little of Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min while on vacation. I’m going to happily blame it on having too much fun! Maybe this week will bode better for me.
I’m very excited to get back to The Map of Time by Félix Palma. I picked it up as soon as I got home and I’m hoping to power through and have it finished in the next week or so. The story is really fun.
I finally started An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and I’m focusing on it as much as possible. I realized the book club meeting for this one is Monday and it’s a nine-hour audiobook. That’s doable, but will require a lot of concentration!

Recently finished: I wrapped up A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab while I was getting ready for the formal dinner at my conference! It was great timing and now I’m super excited about getting to the final book in the series. Talk about a cliffhanger. I gave the book Four out of Five Stars.
I decided to take a book with me for the trip and picked the slim volume of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. It was a perfect light read while I was on the pool deck and I had some purchased books and magazines to tide me over when I finished it. I gave the book Four out of Five Stars as well.

I posted my review for Burial Rites by Hannah Kent on Monday. I’m back to blogging this week after taking last week off. It feels good to be back and I’m feeling confident I can keep up going forward. I’m glad this busy summer is starting to wind down.

Reading Next: I have another book club pick that’s going to be ‘all hands on deck.’ Assuming I finish Jones on time, I’ll jump right into Beautiful Music by Michael Zadoorian. All I know about this one is it has a Detroit connection. I look forward to learning more about it.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Recently Added to my To-Read List

6 Dec

This seems to be about a weekly feature. Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts on any of these!

  1. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. This book seemed to be sneaking at the edge of my periphery. It’s been on my Goodreads recommendations and when it popped up again on my Book Calendar, I gave in and added it. I’m surprised to see it’s less than 100 pages! The story is told through the actual letters between Hanff and a second-hand bookseller in London. It somewhat reminds me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
  2. In One Person by John Irving. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might know that I have a love for everything John Irving. I wrote about it in a post last week. I can’t help myself when I see one of his books so this being on the bargain shelf at Barnes & Nobel made my day. The story follows the struggles of a bi-sexual man in search of inner meaning.
  3. The First Phone Call from Heaven by Mitch Albom. This is the book I had Albom sign when Nicole and I met him last week. It’s his latest and (at time of writing) #4 on the NYT Hardcover Fiction Bestseller list. In a small town in Northern Michigan, the phone starts ringing and those on the other end are calling from Heaven. Is it a hoax or the real thing? I can’t wait to find out!
  4. The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch. This book is yet another Goodreads First Reads win. Finch tells the story of a young Yale graduate who looks to escape the disappointments of his life by taking a year at Oxford. As a student, I studied abroad in England so this struck home with me and I’m excited to give it a read.

So that’s it for now. Do I have any winners? Any duds? Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear!

Until next time, write on.