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BOOK WORM: Helene Hanff's '84, Charing Cross Road' is a book to treasure

By Kathleen Duncan
June 12, 2013 at 1:12 a.m.


The first time I read "84, Charing Cross Road" by Helene Hanff, I knew with all my heart and soul that Helene and I were meant to be best friends.

We were meant to read books together, travel to London bookshops, drink tea and enjoy afternoons discussing literature in the park. It was fate. I could feel it.

Unfortunately, the fact that we were so obviously meant to be became a tragic impossibility when I found out she passed away in 1997.

To this day, she is one of my absolute favorite authors. She is someone I would surprise hug in the street if I ever saw her and not be sorry at all when I was taken away by police.

Alas, I didn't even have the chance to meet her. She was gone before I knew she existed. This has been one of the greatest disappointments thus far of my reading life.

"84, Charing Cross Road" is a book to savor, to treasure, to put a book jacket on and store on your safest shelf. It is a book to carry in your purse every day - just in case. It is a book to own multiple copies of because you can't help but buy the different versions you find in used bookstores everywhere.

It is a book to quote randomly when the inspiration strikes and hope someone nearby recognizes the words. It is a book for people who love books and for people who love letters.

It is a book for people who are charmed by a real, true, relationship that can exist between two people who are separated by a vast ocean and many miles.

It is a book to read so many times that one day, after many years, it falls apart in your hands.

"84, Charing Cross Road" is a collection of letters between Helene (as her long-lost best friend, I get to call her Helene) and a London bookseller, Frank Doel of Marks & Co. at 84, Charing Cross Road.

The letters start with her request for books that she cannot find in New York. Within her letters, she mails entreaties and money orders; Frank mails back beautiful volumes. Their letters ignite a deep friendship that flourishes over the years.

As readers, we are given the humor, generosity and genuine affection between two people who have never met but share the most important of bonds: the love of books.

My regret every time I read this gem is that I never had the pleasure of writing Helene a letter or being blessed with a book from 84, Charing Cross Road.

But at least I have this collection to soothe these wounds, and I hope that readers everywhere will love it as much as I have.

And if you do, then maybe we, too, are meant to be.

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