This summer, I have an intern working with me at work and we both enjoy reading books. She lent me 84, Charing Cross Road to read – I had never read it (or heard of it), but I figured why not, I’ll give it a try. She highly recommended I read it, as it is a classic story.
This book was a change-up for me in terms of the types of books I usually read. Typically, I enjoy reading non-fiction books that aim to help me on my journey to improving myself. 84, Charing Cross Road is a collection of letters Helene Hanff, an aspiring playwright in the 1950s in New York, wrote to a used-book dealer in London during the time 1950 to 1970. It sheds light on the relationships formed overseas, and the communication that took place during the 1950s and 1960s.
The rest of this post gives a brief summary of the book, my takeaways, and my recommendation for you.
84, Charing Cross Road is a collection of letters between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York City, and the workers and family members of a used-book dealer in London at 84, Charing Cross Road. Through the years, though never meeting and separated both geographically and culturally, they share a friendship based on their common love for books. Their relationship is captured throughout the book as they share information about their families, their activities, and their hopes and dreams.
Over the span of 20 years, Helene and the book dealer’s main dealer, Frank Doel, write to each other with information on which books are in stock, which books Helene wants, and what Frank is doing to get those books. Helene always gives Frank a hard time and is witty and silly with her writing. The other workers of the dealer love her writing and send her letters saying how much they wish they could meet her. Helene sends gifts (food, clothing) for the holidays and continues to write letters to and purchase books from the store.
Over time, a bond forms and both sides continue to write. As the years go on, the friendships formed in the early years decline. Families mature, some of the workers pass away or move on to new jobs, and Helene becomes busy with work. By the end of the book, the friendship is still there, but the communication and correspondence has faded.
With all books I read, I want to have some takeaways for me to reflect on and apply in my life. Unapplied knowledge is no knowledge at all, as Stephen Covey says.
The copy of 84, Charing Cross Road I read was 97 pages long, and once I got to about page 75, I was scratching my head to figure out a takeaway. It is a storybook about friends who never meet and end up falling apart due to distance and time. Based on this, I have two takeaways: 1. you never know the impact of your actions on others and 2. Even though we sometimes fall out of friendship with other people, that doesn’t mean we aren’t still friends today.
You Never Know the Impact of Your Actions
For my first takeaway, the members of the bookstore in London were touched and moved by ever letter sent by Helene. They the way she wrote, her gifts, and her passion for reading. Likewise, Helene enjoyed the letters she received back from the Londoners. They were friends from across the Atlantic Ocean, but never ended meeting due to money concerns. For me, I love helping others and influencing people to achieve their full potential. I love making connections and acting on those connections.
For example, I was interviewed on one of my friend’s podcast in April. After seeing how much fun it was, I’ve now sent 4 amazing people his way to be featured on his podcast. They loved the experience and I’m incredibly happy I could provide them that opportunity. I don’t necessarily need the spotlight – I love playing a support role if necessary.
I’ve had people come up to me now and thank me for some of my actions and help. Giving your time and energy is one of the most valuable things you can do for other people.
Saying Good Bye Doesn’t Mean the End, It Means Until Next Time
In 84, Charing Cross Road, there were multiple years that passed between letters at some points. The relationships and emotions were still there, but they had faded. Eventually, the letters stopped altogether.
I was at dinner with my sister tonight and we started talking about relationships. Afterwards, it got me thinking about some of my past relationships, both romantic, but also friendships and work relationships. One of the best feelings in the world is to having meaningful connections with other people. I thought back to some of my friendships from middle and high school. Now that I’m 25, I haven’t talked to some of those guys in 7 years and it’s a little sad, but also a little bit exciting because it means we are all busy and doing big things. Maybe I’ll see them again, maybe I won’t.
My takeaway here is never to burn bridges and say instead, “now isn’t the best time for our relationship (friendship, romantic, work, etc.), but I valued our time together. I learned a lot from our experiences together and in the future we will see each other and bond again.” I’m trying to deal with this on a personal level, as I’ve burned bridges in the past and these are some of my only regrets.
Good bye doesn’t mean bye forever – it means until next time.
84, Charing Cross Road is a simple story yet an interesting tale. It’s a classic and was highly recommended to me. I enjoyed it and it was a quick read.
Readers: take time to reflect on your relationships today. Reach out to loved ones who haven’t experienced your love lately.
Thanks for reading my summary and book review.