Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road

TITLE: 84, Charing Cross Road
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Helene Hanff
FORMAT: Paperback
COPYRIGHT: 1970
THIS EDITION: 1990

Another find on the library date, 84, Charing Cross Road, is nothing but a series of letters that follow an aloof writer/reader and a bookstore from 1949 to 1969.

Basically, these start with her writing from NYC to London, a request with a little bookstore to find a book she’s craving because she saw their ad in a magazine and their “antiquarian” expertise is something she equates with money.

What follows is quite charming – a $5/book cap on prices, which inflates to about $50 today, that seems quaint even though it wasn’t, a friendship that includes powdered and fresh eggs and nylons when they couldn’t get them because of post-war rationing, and a friendship that continued in letters for decades, ending only in her main friend/contact’s death.

I love that the letters were all kept to the point that this book could happen.  We don’t have this kind of society anymore.  We don’t have quaint bookshops that will operate under the honor system and mail a book across the ocean and send a bill.  We have e-Commerce sites and anonymous people and warehouses and not shoppes.  Credit cards and anonymity.

This book made my heart sing and it made me happy for a time that I wish I could have been a part of.

Life today is easier, but it isn’t better.

I’m giving this a 5 out of 5.  Beautiful in its simplicity.  (Also, they’ve made it into a movie, if you’re so inclined.)

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Writer Wednesday – Susan C. Finelli

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I was born and raised in New York and currently live in “The Big Apple” with my husband and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Riley Rian. I am an Executive Producer at Manhattan Neighborhood Network Public Access Television. I also host the talk show “Behind the Shadows” a program where my guests and I explore what goes on “Behind the Shadows” of what meets the eye.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
Before I gave in to my passion for writing, I was executive in corporate America for many years. Always yearning to write, I have numerous published articles in The New York and National Law Journals on financial and law firm management.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
In addition to writing “Fading Shadows” my first published novel was “Behind the Shadows” I also write short stories and poetry. When I was very young I tried to write a novel, which I abandoned. After many years of it collecting dust on the top shelf of my closet, I took it down and read it, realized how dreadful it was, and had a shredding ceremony.

…and what you’re working on right now.
I am currently working on my third novel, yet to be titled.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
My earliest book related memories are those in the first grade, sitting in circles on tiny chairs, learning how to read and listening to my teacher reading to us, wishing that I could one day go to the faraway places that we read about. I often see myself sitting in that tiny circle.

What are your three favorite books?
“Time and Again” by Jack Finney, “Sons and Lovers” by D. H. Lawrence, and “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck.

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I only read one book at a time. I am currently reading “GOD A Story of Revelation” by Deepak Chopra.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
get lost.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
I only re-read the classics and my three favorite books.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
It depends who recommends the book to me.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
I am in the habit of recommending books that I enjoy. Other than my three favorite books, I give the person the book I am recommending with no expectation of getting it back.

What do you look for in a good book?
A plausible story that haunts me until I have finished reading it.

Why do you write?
Writing gives me a sense of free expression. I have a vivid imagination and I write to let it run wild! A friend once told me that a magician can only pull out of a hat what he/she puts in and wanted to know what I put in my hat!

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
If I couldn’t write I think that I would like to sing or act.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I am inspired by the world around me. A wise person once told that “when you walk down the street, don’t look straight ahead; instead look up, down, right and left.”

What has writing taught you about yourself?
I have patience that I never thought I had.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
Happily. My friends and family enjoy my novels and poetry and keep nagging me to finish my third novel, which is far from finished.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
Writers seem to be perceived as either being “nerdy” or “eccentric”

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Recognition.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Trying to force my way through writer’s block; I have learned that when blocked, just think about and talk to my characters, they tell me when it is time to get back to the keyboard. I am certain that there have been many other mistakes which I have made and learned from, and that there are many more to come. Like life, writing is a never ending learning process.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
I would love to write a screenplay, however I have learned that it is an entirely different discipline and method of writing.

How do you deal with your fan base?
Graciously.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That I write in the middle of the night with my dog curled up on my lap.

Anything else we should know?
I am included in the 2013 edition of “Who’s Who in American Literature”

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