Tag Archives: books

Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

I really wanted to start 2016 off by reading a really good book.  But it’s hard to know if the one in your hands is going to deliver on the hopes and promises.  It’s always a gamble, but sometimes you win the jackpot with a book.  And that is how I felt with this lovely, thin tome.

Let me get the first jarring bit out-of-the-way: it’s an epistolary novel.  If you are like me, that can turn you off more than entice you into the book.  I think it’s very hard to do something like this without it feeling gimmicky.  I am happy to say, once I got adjusted to the style, it made more sense and became a fun part of the book, not a distraction.

This is a witty, charming, and utterly delightful story of a correspondence between a bookshop in London and a single New Yorker, on the hunt for inexpensive but clean books from 1949 through 1969.  Her voice is clear and authentic.  She is a bit wry and has a brusque but generous personality that jumps off the page.  I smiled on page  3 and quite literally laughed out loud on page 5.  The shop owner’s voice is a fantastic counterpoint with his staid, and buttoned-up propriety in his correspondence.  And just as you are following these two people and their communiques, then new characters write letters and get introduced to the fold as the employees of this charming book shop in London.

What I loved in this little book was the intimate look back to a different era, and the ways people communicated and reached out to each other.  The caring shared among these people was palpable.  And the resounding themes that you are left with were of friendship, kindness, generosity, and the passage of time.

For this book review, I highly recommend this book for people who:

  • like post WW2 novels
  • want a cozy and life-affirming read
  • for book lovers
  • for people who love character driven stories

Have you read it?  If so, what did you think?  Please let your comments below.

84, Charing Cross Road Book Cover 84, Charing Cross Road
Helene Hanff
Literary Fiction
Penguin Books

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene's sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

If only they would stop publishing so I could catch up…

I had my first moment of being afraid of getting old last year.  It was a true, deep, emotional panic about time slipping through my hands.  And it wasn’t so much about aging, but the realization that I will never be able to read all the books I want to, especially given the pace of publishing.  That thought gave me the vapors.

Once I had cleared my head and accepted this truth, I had to figure out how to adapt.  My plan became simple-

  1. Don’t finish crappy books in hopes that it will get better.
  2. Do not finish books that you just aren’t liking because you hope that you will “get it” by hanging in there.
  3. Don’t feel pressured by people to read their favorite book if it isn’t in your wheelhouse, or you straight-up know that you have differing tastes.
  4. Don’t feel pressured to read something just because it was deemed a classic. (I’m talking to you, Moby Dick.)
  5. Do spend time seeking out books that sounds exciting, challenging, interesting among what’s being published now and throughout the year so you can get ahead of the game.

To that end, I started listening more regularly to bookish podcasts, to get both recommendations on what book lovers liked, and to hear about upcoming releases that I may want to put on my list. This, of all my other techniques, was the most successful at alleviating the fears that I was missing out and gave me something (many things) to look forward to from the publishing world.

Here are my favorites (in no particular order of preference):

Simon Savidge’s gentle snark makes me laugh. And I like the interplay between him and Thomas Otto, who have different tastes in books, but clearly have a fun tension at play in the podcasts.

Ann Kingman raved so passionately about a book, that I immediately preordered it, and I am thrilled that I did because it means that I was able to read A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara the week it was released.  (Being perfectly honest, I inhaled every devastating moment of that tome in 2 days.)   And Michael Kindness also delivered this year with a beautiful recommendation for one of his favorite books, Any Human Heart by William Boyd.

Seriously- can we talk a moment about Angela Ledgerwood’s buttery voice for just a moment? I could listen to her read the phone book. It’s so beautiful!  She is a great interviewer and some of the most memorable author interviews I heard last year have been on her show.

I really like the ensemble feel they have with this podcast.  There is always something to think about or a book to add to my TBR (To Be Read) pile after listening to their episodes. And I especially like that they have varied tastes and come at the topics and suggestions from all sorts of angles.  Plus they aren’t book snobby, so they get an A+ from me on that point.

You really can’t go wrong with any of these options.  The Book Riot team have a number of podcasts, and I listen to their offerings most regularly.  Their engagement, passion and drive to make reading fun, diverse, and free from judgement is what keeps me coming back.

Are there others that you love that I have missed?  Please leave a comment below and let me know!

2016- And we are off to the races!

They say that you should start the New Year off in a purposeful way, because what you do on that day will set the course for the rest of the year.  I certainly hope that is the case, because I spent Jan.1, 2016 lounging by a pool, reading a book that was an absolute delight, and finishing it at a clipped pace.

Last year was a fantastic year of reading for me.  I participated in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, which propelled me into more thoughtful and challenging reading than I had ever before, in all my years of reading.  I have always been good about updating my reading on Goodreads, but I also wanted to see if I would get a different result if I tried to set a goal number.  So I set a random goal of 40 books for 2015 and blew that out of the water.

I listened to a lot of literary podcasts last year, and it made me more aware of what was being published and  getting editorial buzz.  I do think that helped me to maintain a crazy pace of reading, because everything I read was more likely a good pick, as opposed to years before when I would just pull books from the library shelves and check them out based on cover/ back blurb.  And I was excited to finish one fantastic read, knowing that my TBR (To Be Read) pile was filled with other exciting curated reads.  So I feel that the time spent to seek out and follow the buzz, and then find the material that matched my interests, was time well spent.

That also made pushing myself to do other things, like taking on the challenge, a bit easier.  I really struggled with some of the categories, and I will save that for another post.  But suffice it to say, I enjoyed the treasure hunt aspect of trying to find a book I would like in the designated categories, and not being afraid to walk away from it if it wasn’t working for me.


So what’s on deck for 2016?

  • Well, definitely the 2016 Read Harder Challenge.
  • I have also raised my Goodreads goal for this year to be 50 books, which will be more of a forcing function to make sure that I update each book as I go.
  • I am toying with the idea of starting a booktube channel.  We will see how that goes.  I am most worried about the time needed for the editing process. (Any ideas or suggestions for me, please leave me a comment below.)
  • I want to read more books in translation, and not just from European countries.  I would like to read more from South American, African and South East Asian authors this year.  To that end, I already have the following lined up

Please let me know if you have any South American or South East Asian writers that you love, or other works in translation that you are looking forward to reading.

Here’s wishing all readers a bounty of amazing literary adventures in 2016!