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Duchess of Bloomsbury Street

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street - Helene Hanff 84, Charing Cross Road should have a warning sticker on the cover: "Be sure to have a copy of The Duchess Of Bloomsbury Street on hand BEFORE beginning this book."

If you've read 84, you already know it takes maybe an hour to finish, including bathroom breaks and getting up to brew a cup of tea (and maybe trying to make that recipe for Yorkshire pudding, while you're at it). You also know it's impossible to read 84 and not want to read more of Helene Hanff's writing. Certainly you'll be longing to know what happened to her next. And oh, that bittersweet ending – you'll want a little antidote on hand to chase away any possible blues.

So get yourself a copy of Duchess, and find out what happens when – spoiler alert! – Hanff finally gets to go to London.

She writes another awesome book, is what happens. This one's a diary – okay, it's based on the diary she kept during the course of her visit. (A little editing never hurt anyone.)

This book's wonderful. It's funny and fascinating and touching and engrossing, just like 84 -- but richer in some ways, because Hanff can give us all sorts of little details a structure like 84's doesn't leave room for.

She's brilliantly insightful at times:

I don't know where I was. I could find no name to the street, I'm not even sure it was a street. It was a kind of enclosed courtyard, a cul-de-sac behind Clarence House and St. James's Palace. ...A footstep is loud and you stand without moving, almost without breathing. There is no reek of money here, only the hallowed hush of privilege.

And sometimes she's just her usual wry, witty self:

Somewhere along the way I came upon a mews with a small sign on the entrance gate addressed to the passing world. The sign orders flatly:


The more you stare at that, the more territory it covers.

Read this book if you're a New Yorker:

I am so tired of being told what a terrible place New York is to live in by people who don't live there.

...or if you're addicted to reading and love to hear the confessions of another bookaholic:

I'm always so ashamed when I discover how well-read other people are and how ignorant I am in comparison. If you saw the long list of famous books and authors I've never read you wouldn't believe it. My problem is that while other people are reading fifty books I'm reading one book fifty times.

(I can relate to that far too well.)

Read this book. It's lovely, it's lovable, and it's less than 150 pages. Just be sure to read 84, Charing Cross Road first.