84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street – Helene Hanff, 1970 and 1973

I think I first read 84 Charing Cross Road in my grandmother’s collection- probably not in Reader’s Digest Condensed form, as most of hers were, because what’s to condense? And what wasn’t to love here, for a New Yorker with family connections in London? Plus epistolary novels work particularly well with teens – the novelty, the shortness, the illusion of intimacy with adults. I still loved it, but I was shocked that Hanff rails against fiction – all she cares about is biography and history, the dullest of the dull to me at exactly the age I read this. Her deep love of books let me skim right over that, I guess. This time around I saw a lot more of the wheels and cables behind the curtain, but it’s still masterful and a deserved hit. I still recommend it to people who love The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which owes 84 a huge debt IMO. The sequel, Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (in which Hanff finally makes it to England), is much slighter–enjoyable but not really special.

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