84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Challenge 9 ~ “A book that was mentioned in another book.”


★ ★ ★ ★ ★

If I’m honest, this has to be the first classic book I’ve loved on first read. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed others, but often the dissection and forced-study in a classroom environment made them rather dry and unenjoyable. Having re-read some of those I’ve studied, I’m pleased to say that just reading them for pleasure does give a new lease of life, but nevertheless 84 Charing Cross Road was just a delight from the very first read (and needed no explanation of certain themes or passages!) It was just a simple, comical and quirky series of letters between a New Yorker and a London bookshop in the post-WWII era.

As a bibliophile, I loved the origin of the story as well as the content – the fact that an avid reader and bookstore had such a unique and personal relationship was heart-warming (and really sad that the bookstore closed down not long after.) The letters from both sides, supplemented by side-characters involvements, developed a balanced understanding of life from both sides of the Atlantic, and from a range of perspectives throughout the community, which is unique for such a book. Admittedly it felt odd in places, therefore, when a correspondence was missing (presumably from the original being misplaced), but this failed to significantly detract from the book.

When people mention classics, there’s a stereotype attached to the word, which often acts as a stigma. They’re viewed as old, boring, complex and over-analysed works of literature that we’re forced to pick through inch by inch as schoolchildren. 84, Charing Cross Road goes far in ambushing this idea – yes, when looked at critically it has much to say on contextualisation, characters and relationships, but at the same time it can simply be read as a short, jovial text between reader and booksellers. For me, this would be an ideal introduction to classic literature in school – simple to analyse thematically and literarily, short and accessible to any reader. I think it should be a book that is read more often.

Recommended for fans of:

  •  So Long A Letter by Mariama Bâ
  • An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 1/4 by Sue Townsend

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