Dear 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff:
It seems fitting that I write this review in the form of a letter to you, since you yourself are a book comprised of letters.
I honestly don’t even know where to begin. Many fellow bookworms recommended that I read you, so many that one actually offered to send me her old copy (thank you thank you!). I read you in one sitting while in bed over spring break. I figured I would read a few pages and then fall asleep, but then I couldn’t put you down.
I loved absolutely everything about you. The way you’re a compilation of letters written back and forth between two bibliophiles who never met in person, though their passion for books created an enduring bond. The fact that you are genuinely one of the most witty and hilarious books I have ever read. How Helene Hanff’s letters read like trumpets sounding the excitement and enthusiasm felt in so many bookworms’ hearts. The way reading you made me want to find a bookish penpal and begin a snail mail dialogue as soon as possible. And most importantly, the fact that you are an actual, real life exchange.
You resonated with me on so many levels: not only from the perspective of a fellow book lover, but also about a longing to visit England. Studying abroad for a year at the University of Oxford filled me with a sense of nostalgia for that country that I’m not sure will ever go away. Because Helene is from America and the bookseller to whom she writes is from England, she longs to visit the bookshop and meet all of her penpal friends face to face. Yet she never makes it there, and at the end of the book she writes:
“I remember years ago a guy I knew told me that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for. I said I’d go looking for the England of English Literature, and he nodded and said: ‘It’s there.’84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. Looking around the rug one thing’s for sure: it’s here.”
I almost cried reading that quote. That sounds dramatic, but yes–I am a mushy mess of emotions when it comes to thinking back to my year at Oxford. I can’t help it. And although I was fortunate enough to visit Oxford again a year after studying there, I never know if I’ll have the opportunity to go again. It’s immensely reassuring to be reminded that one can feel connected to a far away place from the comfort of a page.
Unrelated to England, I also adored how Helene described her bookish quirks, such as in the following quotes:
“I love inscriptions on flyleaves and notes in margins, I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned, and reading passages someone long gone has called my attention to.”
“I houseclean my books every spring and throw out those I’m never going to read again like I throw out clothes I’m never going to wear again.”84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
All in all, I simply adored you, 84, Charing Cross Road. You’re a book that I can see myself reading again and again and again without ever getting tired of your humor and eloquence and bittersweet nostalgia. Just as other bookworms recommended you to me, I will now do my part in recommending you to others.
READ. THIS. BOOK.
See you again soon.
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