If there is a book that every bookaholic must read, it is this, it is this, it is this.
84, Charing Cross Road – a weird name for a book, don’t you think? I would probably have never picked it up if I was browsing at a bookstore or a library. But this one was recomended by a very dear friend so I rented it out (the perks of working at a library!!!). After the first two pages I began to seriously question my friend’s taste in books. I mean what would you think if you were to read two letters – one from a customer to a nondescript bookstore asking for cheap, second hand copies of books and the second, the bookstore’s very proper (read British) reply. How exciting or inspiring could it be? I was tempted to call my friend and ask her if this was some kind of a sick joke. You have a bookstore cum library, so there read this. But before blasting her off, I decided to go through a few more pages. And boy, was I rewarded. By page 5 my faith in my friend had been restored. By page or shall I say, letter 7, I was hooked. For the next hour or so I kept reading the correspondence between a quirky American book lover and a small, antiquarian book shop located at 84, Charing Cross Road, London. Not once did I stop smiling. The book is a sheer delight. Of course, I must apologize for using the word antiquarian here, lest the author – who in case you are wondering is the woman who wrote the letters – takes offense. She categorically stateson page 1 itself that the term scares her.
Yes at first glance, 84, Charing Cross Road is just a collection of letters between a buyer and a seller, but those letters have so much spirit, so much humour and so much warmth in them. They portray a series of beautiful relationships formed between people across the Atlantic who had never met one another and who had only one thing in common -books. Who says books provide fodder only for the mind? They enrich the heart and the soul too. And the letters which start out as straight jacket formal notes that one learns to write in English classes, soon become chronicles of friendship and compassion; a treasury of good natured banter. By the end of the 97 page book you feel as if you know the author, Helene (with an ‘e’ as she points out) really well and you can’t help wanting to meet her to experience her wit and warmth first hand. Who after all sends eggs, ham and even nylons to the families of the bookstore she is buying from, when she herself is on a shoestring budget?
Helene’s letters are a delight – the way she waxes eloquent everytime she receives a good book and blows up Frank Doel, the man who is responsible for procuring her books at Marks and Cohen, whenever there is a delay is hilarious. There’s not much more to say about the book, except that you have to read it to believe it. This is no great piece of literature, just a book straight from a booklover’s heart. A word of appreciation for the editors. They have lett the letters be as is. No grammar checks, no effort to ensure that all’s well with the punctuation. And despite the fact that I get irritated every time I come across a grammatical error in a book, not once did I get cross with Helene or her publishers. By withholding their red pens they have retained the spontaneity of the letters; their very real, very tangible feel. Who, after all, wants to read “perfect” error free letters? Especially letters where you are holding a conversation with the writer, hearing, not reading every word.
Oh and before I wrap this review up, I must confess that I was lucky, the copy available in the INDIAreads library had not just 84 Charing Cross Road but also what can be termed as its sequel, “The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.” If there was one dream that Helene had, one that crept up time and again in her letters, it was a wish to visit England and Marks and Cohen. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is none other than Helene herself and the book is her diary, a blow by blow account of her visit to the land of her dreams for the release of 84 Charing Cross Road. Once again Helene’s candour, her uncensored observations and effusive notes have you smiling all the way. And you realize once again, just how many friends a book can win you.
A definite must read.
** P.S for those of you wondering at the verbose and absolutely informal tone of this review, you have to read the book. There is no way that one can do a critical, formal review of this one!