The blessed man who sold me all my books died a few months ago. And Mr. Marks who owned the shop is dead. But Marks & Co. is still there. If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much.
I came upon the work of Helene Hanff via the film, 84 Charing Cross Road, which I found to be a delight. I purchased the book to see what the actual basis of the film had been. It's a brief book of letters between a book buyer and a book seller, one in New York and one in London, over a period of three decades after World War II. The insights I gained about how that experience differed for people in the U.S. and people in the U.K. were numerous.
The realization of highest import to me was the fact that I rarely ever hear anyone discussing books they have read, or want to read, in-depth any longer in my own community. Even among my friends, a literate and articulate bunch, the discussion of the written word has disappeared. Everyone is so focused on multimedia entertainment that they have forgotten the slower-paced pleasures of books and the subsequent sharing of those books with others in conversation.
The appreciation for the qualities of thought and content in books glitters throughout this brief volume. For anyone who loves books, Hanff's compilation of letters is itself a love letter to the world of letters and literature.
But, a few mild digressions about John Donne aside, the talk in this play is not literary; it's about the quaint, bygone rituals of personalized mail-order commerce. If its heroine were ordering duck shoes from L.L. Bean, ''84 Charing Cross Road'' would not be much different - though it might have to be retitled ''Freeport, Maine 04033.'' All that would be lost would be the Anglophilic and bibliophilic cachet, and that loss would bring a welcome gain in unpretentiousness. The vacuous lip service this play pays to the joys of England's literary heritage is no more than fancy name-dropping. ''84 Charing Cross Road'' is high-minded but resolutely nonintellectual - a play for those who get more pleasure out of owning handsome old books than reading them.