You’ve Got Mail is, of course, the modern remake to the James Stewart/ Margaret Sullavan 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner (which is also perfectly delightful. A side-note: That same year, Sullavan and Stewart also starred together in the film The Mortal Storm, the first American anti-Nazi film. An excellent film- the characters never say "Jew," only "non-Aryan.") The Shop Around the Corner is set in Budapest, You’ve Got Mail in New York: New York in spring, fall, and at Christmas, beautifully shot so that when Meg Ryan bounces out of her Upper West Side brownstone to the small children’s bookstore she inherited from her mother, you see pink and white spring blossoms lining a historic street instead of cars parked one nearly on top of the other.
That it’s set in New York is just one reason I love this “chick flick.” Meg Ryan’s monochromatic yet whimsical wardrobe is another. Black jumpers in the winter and grey linen in the summer. Her pixie haircut. Her shabby-chic apartment. Shots of Manhattan’s flower district. The cheerless cashier in Zabar’s. Tom Hanks’ dog. The witty banter. (Witty banter!) The nostalgic soundtrack. Parker Posey. Dave Chappelle. (Yes, that Dave Chappelle.) Tom Hanks’ “American” family. Because it reminds me that I often imagine owning a small, used bookstore in Manhattan, one much like Pageant bookstore, which was featured in the film Hannah and Her Sisters. Someplace cozy, yet large enough to get lost reading e.e. cummings to your paramour amidst the stacks.
The film opens with Meg Ryan’s boyfriend, columnist Frank (played by Greg Kinnear), who has just purchased multiple vintage electric typewriters. He is lamenting the onset of the digital age.
“Name one good thing, ONE, that we’ve gained from technology,” he says.
“Electricity.” Meg Ryan responds.
He leaves, and Kathleen- the Meg Ryan character- waits impatiently for him to completely disappear down the street so she can correspond with her online pen-pal, who she met in an “over 30” chat room.
Unbeknownst to her, her secret correspondent is actually Joe Fox of Fox Books, a large, big-box bookstore who has been taking out small, independent bookstores throughout the city. A Fox Books is about to open a store in the same neighborhood as Kathleen’s store, named The Shop Around the Corner. It is apparent early on that the enchanting little shop with the high-priced picture books is ultimately doomed.
The 1998 film, while prophetic, is dated. The character Frank foresaw the vast wasteland brought on by the so-called digital revolution, but not even he guessed that it would wipe out… books.
It’s 2011, and I think the fictional Fox Books is doomed. (Or maybe they came up with something better than the Kobo and are hanging in there, alongside Barnes and Noble. Oh, Borders. How could you be so behind? You break my heart.)
A while back, there was a string of used book stores along 4th Ave below Union Square. The street was aptly named Book Row. Pageant Books was one of the last of the smaller bookstores to hang on. Strand Bookstore, the independent giant, remains; it started on Book Row in 1927 as a small shop.
Back to Ella and I lounging on the couch. John came home from church and I left the living room for but a moment and came back to Sports Center. So, I finished the movie that evening as John sat next to me, his face illuminated by the glow of his laptop.
I cried at the end. I always cry at the end. Through my sniffles, I said,
“Do you know why books will never become completely obsolete? Children’s books. Children’s picture books. You can’t read a picture book to a kid on an e-reader.”
“Also- the electronic apocalypse that’s coming,” said John. “By the way, I’m taking the Kindle with me to Albany.”
“WHAT? I just downloaded something. Why do you do these things to me?”
Pageant Books, by the way, is still sort of around. It has evolved into an e-shop.
“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does." Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail.
And just because it's funny, enjoy a great scene from You've Got Mail: