Narrator: Barbara Rosenblatt, John Franklyn-Robbins
Published by Recorded Books on 3/06/2017
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When Helene Hanff makes an innocent inquiry about the possibility of purchasing hard-to-find books through Marks and Co., Booksellers, she begins a 20-year love affair with Frank Doel, the proper English bookseller who answers her letter and sends along her first order in the fall of 1949.
They are two very unlikely correspondents: she a cranky Jewish New Yorker who writes TV scripts and lives in a messy apartment on East 95th Street; he a determinedly courteous middle-class Englishman who sends her beautifully bound and often obscure antiquarian books from the shop he manages on Charing Cross Road in London.
The letters, written between 1949 and 1969, capture the period and pay tribute to the special kind of reader who treasures a well-worn classic.
Don’t be fooled by the synopsis. 84, Charing Cross Road is not a love affair, except in the figurative sense. But it is a meeting of minds: a deep friendship between two people who never met outside the letters they exchanged. Over the course of nearly two decades, this relationship extended to others at Marks & Co., and to Frank’s wife Nora. Sadly, Helene never did get to meet Frank face to face. But their letters, shared with the permission of Nora and the staff of at Marks & Co., are brimming with humor, mutual respect, and a love of classic books, good writing, and the bookbinder’s art. I loved every single minute of it!
I found myself wishing that I had a Marks & Co. and a Frank Doel of my own. Alas, while the internet makes it possible to comb the inventory of innumerable used bookstores—a boon for book collectors everywhere—that same technology means that forming a personal relationship with a rare-book firm is, well, rare.
I listened to the audiobook, read by Barbara Rosenblat and John Franklyn-Robbins, with a smattering of other voices. The voice actors are all pitch-perfect, from their accents to the emotions behind their words. It’s a lovely way to experience the book, and at about 4 hours, it won’t take long—but please, take your time, and savor every minute.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Audiobook Challenge 2022
- COYER Seasons 2022: Summer
- The Backlist Reader Challenge 2022