84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff "If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much."This was my second reading of the book, and I'm adding a star to my original rating. I laughed a lot harder this time, and even got a little choked up near the end. I don't recall this much chortling, cackling, guffawing and snorting on my first time through. The contrast between Helene Hanff's brash American informality and Frank Doel's staid British professionalism is delightful. There's a certain charm in his politeness, while at the same time one wonders how long it will take for him to loosen up. His first letter to Helene begins "Dear Madam", to which she replies: "I hope 'madam' doesn't mean over there what it does here." Her humor and generosity did slowly erode his reserve, but it took years. As she put it: "I write them the most outrageous letters from a safe 3,000 miles away."Outrageous they are, and charmingly witty. I remember when e-mail first started to take hold in the early 1990s. I was working for a professor who mentioned to me that it was ahistorical. We would henceforth have no permanent record of most of our written communication. His comments stayed in my mind while I happily made the switch from snail mail to electronic. Re-reading this little treasury of collected letters made me think perhaps we've lost more than just an outdated form of contact.