Engaging Methuen Readers

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One Minute Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road

 One Minute Book Review:   84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff  (Non-fiction) c. 1970  

Image of itemHelene Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York City and searching for rare classics, strikes up a correspondence with a used book dealer in London during the 1950’s.  What results is an utterly charming and hilarious correspondence, lasting over two decades and spanning two countries.  Even though Helene and bookseller Frank Doel never meet in person, their exchanges create an enduring friendship based on their mutual love of books — one that soon blossoms out to other members of the bookshop and their extended families.

Hanff is a what I would call a real “fire cracker”; she’s a colorful character — brash, kind and teasing — and it all comes out in her letters to the more staid, unfailingly polite Englishman, Doel. Their banter is fun and warm-hearted, making the reader wish to be part of their delightful round robin.

Peeping through the upbeat correspondence, we get a glimpse of how London in the 1950’s was struggling to regain its footing after the horrendous bombings of WWII.  I was surprised to learn that many years after the end of the war, Londoners still had strict rations for food and other items.   I wonder if the family-like atmosphere at the Marks & Co. book dealership was in part due to the collective ‘stick-togetherness’ of war’s aftermath?

If you need a little kindness in your life, or revere the lost art of letter writing, or simply remember the joy of mailing/receiving a personal letter, this little gem of a book may just be what you were waiting for…

There’s even a follow-up book, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, in which Helene is finally able to travel to England!








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National Card and Letter Writing Month

When was the last time you received a note or card in the mail instead of just bills and junk mail?  Celebrate the art of letter writing this month and send a letter or card to someone you care about.  Unlike electronic communications, traditional letter writing is timeless, more personal, and helps to preserve our nation’s history.  Did you know that our third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, wrote over 20,000 letters in his lifetime in addition to governing our nation and inventing new devices?  The world news, personal bad news, good cheer, and daily minutia that people wrote about over the centuries in letters to loved ones, colleagues and leaders have helped define our history and have opened up the mystery of past lives and historic events to us in the present.

To get in the spirit, have a look at the following books about the joys of writing and receiving cards and letters:

Signed, Sealed, and Delivered:  Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing by Nina Sankovitch

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“Sankovitch goes on a quest through the history of letters to discover and celebrate what is special about the handwritten letter, examining not only historical letters but also the letters in epistolary novels, her husband’s love letters, and dozens more sources. Sankovitch reminds us that the letters we write are as important as the ones we wait for”–provided from the publisher

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Griffin and Sabine: an extraordinary correspondence by Nick Bantock exhibits artful letter writing at its best. Publishers Weekly was right when they called this a “singular, magical volume”.  The reader is invited to examine creative handmade postcards and to open colorful envelopes as they explore the developing relationship between Griffin Moss, a lonely London card-designer, and Sabine Stroheim, a mysterious South Pacific islander who can “see” Griffin’s creative process.

 84, Charing Cross Road by He84, Charing Cross Roadlene Hanff beautifully captures the relationship that develops between Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York City and a used book dealer in London through their twenty years of correspondence.  An enchanting classic.

And finally, don’t miss the gorgeously rendered Letters of Note:  An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience compiled by Shaun Usher. This intriguing collection of more thaImage of itemn 125 letters gives us a glimpse of the events and people who have made our history that much more interesting.  Inside you’ll find artful facsimiles of the letters with accompanying text and historical commentary.  Where else could you find a letter from Queen Elizabeth II including her “drop scone” recipe to President Dwight Eisenhower, a job application from Leonardo da Vinci, and a scrawled letter to Marlon Brando from Mario Puzo asking him to play the part of the Godfather in the screen version of his book of the same name?