Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review It Wednesday -- letters from across the pond

I'm in the mood for something different. So here it is.

A couple of months ago, my daughter's best friend, Nicole (who I affectionately call 'my favorite daughter'), posted something on Facebook about a book she'd just read called 84 Charing Cross Road. Well, the concept of the book intrigued me, so Nicole sent the book home with Bethany after a weekend visit. I am so glad she did.

This 1970 non-fiction gem was written by Helene Hanff, the woman responsible for the Ellery Queen television show scripts. Quite simply, the book is a compilation of letters written between Helene and Frank Doel, principal buyer for Marks & Co., an antiquarian bookstore located at 84 Charing Cross Road in London.

Rarely have I read a book that delighted me as much as this one did. After a really long day seated at my desk, I ventured out onto the porch with a glass of wine and this marvelous little book. Once I started reading, I knew I was in it for the long haul. As the night wore on, my outbursts of laughter disturbed the stillness. It is not often I laugh out loud like this while reading a book. Laughter eventually gave way to tears, as I wept with regret and remorse, the way I assume Ms. Hanff once did as well.

Stemming from Ms. Hanff's passion for hard-to-find classic books, the couple engages in enchanting banter, via snail mail (air mail in those days) from New York to London and back again. Doel sends Helene obscure books and Helene gifts him, his family and the others working at Marks & Co. with eggs (a rarity during the days of rationing in England) and other delectable treats.

Of course, the above description may not lure you into picking up a copy of the book for yourself. It does sound rather bland. But there is just something about this short little book that captivates, enthralls and delights the reader. Perhaps it's the essence of Helene's and Frank's personalities that shine through each letter. Quite honestly, I couldn't help connecting the exchange between them to today's Facebook walls, where we invite others in to read our thoughts and conversations with people they don't even know. It's like reading Facebook posts spanning two decades a half-century ago.

There was just something about these letters that draws the reader in. By the time you're done reading, you feel as if you've just spent time with some good friends. And you know you will miss them as you gently close the back cover.

I cannot recommend this book more highly. I want everyone I know to read it. Not because it has any real drama or suspense. There isn't any hot romance or unsolved mysteries. It's just a simple book that turns the ordinary into something extraordinary.

And, for those of you who just don't like to read, guess what? In 1987, a movie, so closely based on the book, was released. I went on eBay and snatched up a copy for less than $5 with shipping. Of course, it's a VHS. But that's not a problem in our household of antiquated electronics.

I was both excited and afraid to watch the movie. So often, the screenwriters seem to destroy the original stories. Not in this case. Bill and I both loved this adaptation, with the incomparable Anne Bancroft, as Helene, and equally brilliant Anthony Hopkins, as Frank. The superb acting was matched by a simply amazing screenplay. And it would have to be, wouldn't it? After all, it is based on a book comprised entirely of letters.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, as I sat down to write, I was in the mood for something different. A book and movie review. Yeah, that's different for this site, but it was on my mind this week and I just wanted to share. Let me know if you read the book or see the movie. I'd love to know what you think.

Reviewing it for you,


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