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84 Charing Cross Road

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Once upon a time, not so very long ago, in the days before Amazon, Waterstones, the internet, kindles and credit cards, there were small independent book shops, whose staff valued their customers and whose customers returned the compliment. In those days it only took THREE days for a book to arrive at its USA destination after being posted in London and flown by the book plane across the Atlantic.
These were the days when people loved and cherished books. They loved and savoured the feel of them, the scent of them and caressed the covers and bindings and all this on top of actually reading them.
And as we read and shared, “84 Charing Cross Road,” we were transported to that time, just after the Second World War, when rationing was still in place and our idea of a period of “austerity” would be beyond the imaginings of the book’s characters, who would think we live in a period of unalloyed luxury.
A very simple business transaction, requesting a copy of a particular book, its receipt, invoicing and payment from 84 Charing Cross Road, a bookshop, is the start of a relationship between Helen in New York and, initially the manager of the shop. As the book goes on the relationship widens to include the rest of the staff, who also correspond with Helen, because in those days people actually wrote thank you letters.
The book is epistolary in style and it is through the exchange of letters, which vary so much in style that we came to know and imagine the characters. No one describes them but we felt we knew exactly how each looked, dressed and comported him/herself. We laughed at times at the contrast between the polite restrained carefully composed language of the English and the energetic, loud, American, who never ordered a book until she had first read it, having borrowed a version from her local library.
“84, Charing Cross Road” is a book to treasure: to relax with and from which to draw comfort; to feel cherished and privileged to be allowed to dip into the lives of these real people. From it we learn once more the benefits to be drawn from consideration of others, thoughtful generosity and gentleness.
It is a book you will want to keep but share. BUT, one word of warning, if you lend it, the borrower will want to keep it. So, buy two copies – one to keep and re-read, until it falls apart, and the other to share with a friend. That is how the book became a best seller. By readers wishing to share their pleasure in it with their friends, who, in turn, shared it with….

Author: Helene Hanff

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