84 Copies of 84, Charing Cross Road

Well, not really. In fact not even close. But I did just buy yet another copy of 84, Charing Cross Road. I think I have four editions already at home, and I now I have a duplicate of one of those editions. As we spend a few weeks along the Maine coast I have been going into used bookstores at a pretty steady pace and for some reason couldn’t resist buying another copy, even though at the time I wondered why. And I also thought of a recent email from Simon T. in which he states he has a no duplicates policy.

Rather than pure obsession, it might have actually been kismet that I picked up my fifth copy of 84CCR. A little further down the road John wanted to spend some time in a beautiful furniture maker’s store and shop and so Lucy and I decided to cool our jets in the shade. It was a good thing for him the 84CCR was close at hand. I was immediately drawn back into it and happily passed the time reading. Had I not been so engaged, John’s browsing time in the furniture store would have been considerably shortened.

So what did I think of my fifth or sixth reading of the lovely 84, Charing Cross Road? I thought it was just as delightful as the first time I read it. In fact, I think it is the best book about books ever written. Maybe it helps to also be an Anglophile, but I defy you to find me a book about books as charming as this one. (Actually I challenge you to find me such a book. If there is a more charming one out there it would be a banner day indeed. And don’t just phone this one in. No off hand suggestions of books on books that you liked. It should really knock your socks off, after all, it needs to stand up to what I consider to be perhaps the most perfect reading experience of all time…hmm…NO WAIT, although my prose gets more and more hyperbolic I am realizing that I DO want to hear about all your books on book feedback, even if it has no shot of dethroning 84CCR from my affection. Two that come close for me are Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris and Allan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader. Good lord, is this still a parenthetical thought?! Now you might start to get an idea of what it is like to talk to me in person.)

Where was I?  Oh yes, my thoughts on the re-re-re-re-re-reading 84CCR.

1. A little startled by Helene’s brash sense of humor and way of communicating. Nora wrote that Frank liked, and shared Helene’s sense of humor, but I still worry retroactively that Frank may find it off putting. No doubt has to do with my own insecurities when I visit the UK. Always feel like a bull in a China shop.

2. Similar to #1, it must have been a pain for the folks at Marks & Co to deal with Helene’s cash payments in US dollars. Early on Frank suggests in a very tactful and gracious manner their preferred method of receiving payment only to have Helene miss the point and swat it away.

3. I am struck by Helene’s openness and honesty about her income. When did the English lose their ability to talk about personal income? Trollope is stuffed full of who makes what. And I love reading about who makes what. And from a more serious social historical point of view, Helene’s occasional discussion of how much she makes, and her living conditions gives us an interesting glimpse into the life of a writer.

4. As most of you know, I love fiction and almost never read non-fiction or essays or anything of that sort. But Helene is the opposite. How can I love her so much when she actually dislikes fiction? Yes, she does fall in love with Pride and Prejudice and she enjoys poetry, but otherwise everything she loves to read sounds very old and dry and dusty. On the other hand, with this latest (but never last) reading, I am kind of interested in tracking down some of these multi-volume works to see if I have any interest in them. Would I find the description of a battle as interesting as Helene did when she read the couple of pages that were used as wrapping material for one of her purchases? I doubt it, yet I am fascinated by the notion and kind of wish I would. When you think about the libraries that Marks & Co would have been buying in the 1940s and 1950s, and how Frank describes their editions and bindings, etc., and the titles themselves, it just puts one in mind of all those libraries in National Trust properties. Sure the books are pretty, but would I want to read them? Helene would.

5. When I first stared obsessing over the UK when I was about 12 years old, it seemed like an absolutely impossible dream that I would ever be able to visit. Yet at 19 I managed (with help from my parents) to make my first trip to England, Scotland, and Wales.  And then I think of hard working Helene and the decades she had to wait before she could finally make it to England. I am glad she eventually got there and am even more glad (and grateful) that I have been able to visit many times.

6. Frank’s death really hit me hard this time. I knew it was coming, but was still shocked when it happened.

7. I really want to see the film version again. I have seen it about 10 times but it has been several years.

24 thoughts on “84 Copies of 84, Charing Cross Road

  1. Leticia August 6, 2012 / 10:41 am

    I posted a link to this post on the Fans of Helene Hanff Facebook page.
    I, too, love Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris (in fact, I'm re-reading it at this moment) – not as much as 84. For me, it's the friendship between Helene and Frank that makes me read 84 again and again. I have a fondness/fascination for long-distance friendships.
    When I fist read 84, I did make it a point to read some of the books she bought: Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Virginibus Puerisque, the Shaw/Terry letters. I'm forever grateful to Helene for introducing me to such treasures, and for helping me not only to appreciate essays and correspondence, but to love them.


  2. Mystica August 6, 2012 / 11:03 am

    Liked this one very much too!


  3. Teresa August 6, 2012 / 7:43 pm

    Well, you mentioned the two books I was going to suggest to meet your challenge, but I suspected that you had read them already, and I was right. At least I was also on the right track!


  4. Susan in TX August 6, 2012 / 10:39 pm

    I'm not going to put this one on the same tier as “the top 3” that you've listed (I'll let you decide), but one I recently read that I liked more than anticipated is The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee. It was one of those bibliophilic “ahhhhhhhhh” sort of books. Great for a stressful week at completely removing me from the mayhem, and I dare say would be just as cozy in a cabin in Maine. :)


  5. StuckInABook August 7, 2012 / 7:47 am

    I must re-read this book – obviously I love it, although I do find Hanff very brash in an American-stereotype-from-films way, but I still kinda loved her (I did not love her in The Duchess of Bloomsbury, where I think she needed shaking.) I, too, worry that Frank was terrified by her.

    In terms of books-about-books, Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing beats this one, for me, but I don't expect you to share that opinion. Anne Fadiman is definitely up there. Unlike Susan, I wasn't actually very enamoured by Buzbee's book – more facts about books and printing than individual books and love of reading, if memory serves.

    I have just bought Sheila Kaye-Smith's All The Books of My Life, and have high hopes of loving that.

    Oh! The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac by Eugene Field is wonderful, although (being from the 1890s) doesn't include many titles that I love.

    And finally (oh gosh) I have one exemption to my new no-duplicates policy, and that is the Provincial Lady books. I have five or six of the first one.


  6. A Super Dilettante August 7, 2012 / 3:31 pm

    Hello Thomas, I'm so glad that you have written about one of my favourite books. I remember reading this book without a pause on the train. I had a penpal at that time and he was from Canada. He was so intelligent and well-read and there I was, dreaming of meeting him some day and lived happily ever after. But of course, we never met in the real life and our correspondence dwindled like the fading light at twilight.

    I think we should bring back this book as a topic of discussion because we live in a time of rapid techonlogical change. Many of us are now reading on kindles, i-pads and laptops instead of books from the bookshops. There are so many local bookshops that are struggling. In last year, there was a riot in London and many major cities in England. The only place that wasn't broken into was a bookshop. While I'm glad that they didn't steal the books from the shops, it meant that the books are not as cool or desirable as a pair of sport shoes or a mobile phone.

    I don't think there will be a love story like this one without our shared passion for books.

    Have you ever read “The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street” by Helene Hanff? I absolutely adore this book by the same author and I often read her when I need a dose of laughter. She was incredibly sharp, observant and quick-witted.

    Hope you enjoy the film too. I've got a DVD somewhere at home and I love the nostalgic film like this.

    Best wishes, ASD


  7. Ruthiella August 7, 2012 / 5:28 pm

    I too really loved 84 Charing Cross Road. It made me cry. I read Hanff’s two follow ups The Duchess of Bloomsbury and Q’s Legacy, but they don’t have the same magic as 84CCR.
    This book probably won’t knock 84, Bennet or Fadiman off the top of your list, but Reading Classics for Pleasure by Michael Dierda is a lovely book about reading and the joy it brings.


  8. Thomas at My Porch August 7, 2012 / 7:28 pm

    Leticia: I didn't realize there was a Helene Hanff FB page. I am going to have to join. I love that you were inspired to read some of the books she mentions. I think I will have to do the same–or at least acquaint myself with where they “fit” in the world of lit.

    Mystica: It is fun isn't it.

    Teresa: The interesting thing about the Fadiman is that I found it before I started blogging. That is, I just stumbled upon it, no help from the peanut gallery.

    Susan: I have never heard of the Buzbee. I will have to investigate.

    Simon: John I and I just got back from a day of scouring 5 different secondhand bookshops along the Maine coast. In one of those shops I came across The House by Eugene Field. I had never heard of him before I saw the book today. I noticed the Bibliomaniac title on the inside of The House and mentioned it to John just minutes before seeing your comment. How odd.

    ASD: You know I had a penpal all through high school and college–and we even chatted on the phone in college when we could afford to. He was in NYC, I was in Minnesota. We never met and we lost touch for at least a decade if not more until Facebook reunited us. And it is uncanny how much we still have in common. One instance of technology being a good thing.

    Ruthiella: I agree about the Hanff sequels. Although the two you mention are better than her book on NYC.


  9. michelle August 8, 2012 / 1:00 am

    I loved 84, Charing Cross too, and have the rest of Hanff omnibus waiting to be read. It was from reading 84 that got me interested in the others like Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, Q etc.
    I used to have a French penpal when I was in school for about 8 years and somehow lost touch after that, but in recent years have found again through Facebook. The only books involved in our correspondence back then was Tin Tin. :)
    As for books about books, I second Ruthiella's suggestion of Michael Dirda's Classics for Pleasure, and I love his Bound to Please very much ,too. Another one that might interest you would be A.Edward Newton's The Amenities of Book Collecting and Kindred Affections. It's a collection of delightful essays about his love for book-collecting, and England. He's American, by the way.
    By the way, just want to let you know that the tea towel arrived safely two weeks ago. Many thanks, again! :)


  10. Susan in TX August 8, 2012 / 4:19 pm

    Came back to see if anybody had left additional titles I hadn't heard of :). Simon is correct about the Buzbee — it's not really about individual titles as much as it is Buzbee's love of all things book/book-related. In the opening he talks about how he became a reader as a teenager and how his love for books grew from there. Much of his story takes place in his home state California. It was his passion for “all things book” that made me enjoy it so much. (and his descriptions of working in various bookstores and alongside an older woman in a book store and their lifelong friendship that resulted…going to stop now!)
    Happy Reading!


  11. music-books-steve August 9, 2012 / 11:54 pm

    A bit off topic, but my favorite book-on-books is Leo Deuel's “Testaments of Time: The Search for Lost Manuscripts and Records”, a really nicely done popularization of the archeological/archival search for books. I recently bought (and not at my store) Rostenberg and Stern's “Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary sleuths and Their Shared Passions”, which I haven't read yet, but it looks like a charming memoir of life in the antiquarian book trade.


  12. Margaret August 10, 2012 / 2:26 am

    84 is marvellous and well woth re-re-re-reading but “Howards End is on the Landing” better satisfies bookish appetites and Anglophile desires – in my humble opinion.


  13. Jennifer Dee August 10, 2012 / 10:55 am

    I also love this book and have read it countless times. I don't have one at the moment having passed it around so much I have lost track of it.Good excuse to go to my locat Waterstone's and get a new copy.


  14. Thomas at My Porch August 10, 2012 / 1:59 pm

    Michelle: Those are all great suggestions, I must find them.

    Susan: The way you describe it makes it sound just my thing.

    Steve: The Deuel book sounds very interesting. Rostenberg & Stern wrote 3 or 4 books together. I read one of them back in 2009 and quite liked it. It was specifically about one of their buying trips to Europe after WWII. http://myporchblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/book-review-old-books-in-old-world.html

    Margaret: I am one of the few who really didn't like Howards End is on the Landing. I thought it was a bit of bait and switch, but I know I am in the minority on this one. It you want to read my less than nice review of it: http://myporchblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/book-review-smoke-and-mirrors-are-on.html

    Jennifer: Always good to have one on hand.


  15. mel u August 12, 2012 / 7:31 pm

    I love 84 also and hope to see the movie one day.


  16. bkclubcare August 13, 2012 / 9:19 pm

    What a lovely post. i can still call up where and when I read 84CCR and how I laughed out loud and was thoroughly charmed.


  17. winstonsdad August 16, 2012 / 12:45 pm

    it is a great book I ve just one copy thou the vmc hardback but it is a very nice version ,all the best stu


  18. Travellin' Penguin - Pam August 18, 2012 / 8:17 am

    I also have more than one copy of this book, have re re re re read it numbers of times as well as watched the film again and again. I think it is the contrast b/w the two personalities that both love so much. She from a brash New York Jewish point of view and he from the lovely quaint side that probably wouldn't have been found in each other's neighbourhoods. Will never tire of this book and probably will still buy yet another copy when I see one that is different from what I have.


  19. Kim August 18, 2012 / 11:17 am

    Can't believe I'm admitting this, but I've never read the book! I've seen the movie and loved it. So, on the hunt for a copy right now. Thanks for the reminder, Thomas.


  20. Michelle Ann August 19, 2012 / 9:52 am

    Some time ago I read 'Parnassus on Wheels' by Christopher Morley. It’s an American book of 1917, and the story revolves around a travelling bookshop which visits rural areas. It's a very enjoyable book, with women's lib and romance thrown in, as well as plenty of discussion on books. What I did find interesting is finding out what people read then, and how desperate for books the people who lived in remote farms were. I think most bibliophiles would enjoy this.


  21. Juxtabook August 19, 2012 / 4:45 pm

    I once went to a house to buy books and there were 500 variant editions of Cranford. There are limits and mine was about 5! I also have a no duplicates policy for my own books – obviously I stock multiple copies for sale – but never 500!


  22. Thomas at My Porch August 22, 2012 / 9:34 am

    Mel U: Oh my goodness, you really do need to see it.

    BK: I actually saw the film first so that is what I remember.

    Stu: I don't have any hardcover versions.

    Pam: You are probably right about the contrast.

    Kim: Well you are in luck because the movie is actually as good as the book.

    Michelle: I actually own a copy of Parnassus on Wheels but had no idea what it is about. So nice to know that is what is inside that plain yellow cover.

    Juxtabook: I think the key is to get obsessed with a book that doesn't have 500 editions!


  23. towardinfinity August 23, 2012 / 11:35 pm

    As I was reading through your parenthetical tangent (no harm done, I do the same thing, sometimes it's the only way to express one's thoughts, especially if you tend to think in a stream-of-consciousness manner), I kept thinking, Maybe…The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett? Seems like we're on the same page!


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