Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Film for Bibliophiles

Sunday morning, Ella and I were feeling under the weather, so we skipped church and watched You’ve Got Mail on TBS. I have You’ve Got Mail on DVD, but, as so often happens, I got excited about seeing a movie I love on the old boob tube and lazily settled into the couch to endure the commercials rather than dig out the DVD.

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.

“That’s one.”

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:


Miss Megan said...

I LOVE You've Got Mail! Although dated, it's a great movie! And we will always need children's picture books - I agree=)

Amanda Gibson said...

I love that movie - for all the same reasons you do. Whenever it's on USA or TNT or TBS or whatever - I just can't flip on by. I get sucked in.

On another note - the fact that books - books with real paper and real hardback covers - are becoming "obsolete" makes me sad. I love books. Real, live books. I love the smell and the feel. I especially love library books - with the crinkly covers and turned down page corners. I go to the library once a month or so - just to get my crinkly cover, hardback book fix. I have yet to give in and get a kindle - for now, I'm stickin' with the library. :o)

Anonymous said...

One of my favourite movies ever...

I'm with you on the children's picture books. However, I happen to know that my brother-in-law reads bedtime stories from his iPad to his three-year-old son. Sad, but true. He's a technophile though. Which is SO not me...

Michelle said...

I love that movie! And I detest the thought of not holding an old book in my hand. I haven't given in to the e-reader yet.

Mary said...

Also one of my very favorites and most quoted. "I was eloquent!" I too have a kindle, but still enjoy a real book in my hands. Always enjoy your blog.

Toaster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Toaster said...

I have to admit, I haven't seen You've Got Mail. However, Bob & I love stumbling upon a favorite movie on TV, which is one of the reasons we don't have DVR. (And no, we don't have a e-reader, either.)

Liz said...

I'm WAY behind in reading your blog... can't believe I missed this one. You've Got Mail... My all-time favorite movie! Love it! Your blog brought a smile to my face tonight! And now I have to go watch it!

Kim said...

I love You've Got Mail mostly because I first saw The Shop Around the Corner and fell in love with that story. I watch it whenever my husband works late. He comes home to me sobbing, "I wanted it to be you!" Great post, even though it took me forever to get to it!