A Musing: 84, Charing Cross Road

If ever you have a spare hour and are in need of a reminder of the good, true, bookish things in life, may I recommend making some tea, sitting in your most comfortable and comforting spot, and reading 84, Charing Cross Road? Don’t forget to have a handkerchief near, too.

84, Charing Cross Road is a tiny epistolatory wonder. A time capsule, a manifesto, a love letter. Although some would say it’s about the friendship Helene Hanff had with the booksellers at Marks & Co., I think it’s most about the relationship Hanff had with type on pages between two covers.

I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to “I hate to read new books,” and I hollered “Comrade!” to whoever owned it before me.

and

i am going to bed. i will have nightmares involving huge monsters in academic robes carrying long bloody butcher knives labeled Excerpt, Selection, Passage, and Abridged.

and

I do think it’s a very uneven exchange of Christmas presents. You’ll eat yours up in a week and have nothing left to show for it by New Year’s Day. I’ll have mine till the day I die – and die happy in the knowledge that I’mleaving it behind for someone else to love. I shall sprinkle pale pencil marks through it pointing out the best passages to some book-lover yet unborn.

Hanff is definitely one of my birds of a feather, kindred spirt, yes, yes, yes! people. I too love cream-not-white pages, not-so-secretly take long, eyes-closed inhalations of books, and have very strong feelings about abridgements!

Wallace from Unputdownables asked us to read it for her birthday. Boy, did we all get a gift! This was my second time reading it, and it only gets better. The next time I read something so sad like the average American reads six books a year, or I get a blank stare when I refer to someone being so Uriah Heep, I will take my own advice and make a pot of tea, curl up in my most comfortable and comforting spot, and read 84, Charing Cross Road again (and again, and again).

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5 comments

  1. Marie

    I’m just happy to hear that the average American does read six books a year! I was under the negative impression that the majority of Americans don’t read at all for pleasure, but watch mind-numbing sitcoms and cop shows instead. That does give me hope. Suppose one day that number might even increase? Now that there is such focus on the YA genre, it seems that children who otherwise would be turned off by being forced to read books for school in which they generally lack interest and resent are actually finding books on their own that hook them. Maybe these kids will continue to grow as readers, becoming parents who read to their own children, fostering a love of books in them as well. One can only hope!
    I’ll definitely have to get my hands on a copy of 84, Charing Cross Road. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • jackiemania

      The study didn’t say which books – perhaps they are the book equivalent of mind-numbing sitcoms and cop shows 😉 I fear many of them are, actually.

      I think it’s strange that people in the past hungered to learn to read and valued books and education, but now that a free public education is available to all in America, it is not valued. I know it’s much more complicated than that, but as a person having a grandmother who only went to 4th grade because she had to start working, and a grandfather who came from another country and who taught himself to read in English – needless to say I didn’t resent an hour of my education, and saw it for the privilege that it is.

      84, Charing Cross Road is such a delight! I hope you get your hands on a copy 🙂

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