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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bookshop Movies

Harold groaned when she told him to read everything again. He thought he’d be bored out of his mind, going back and reading the same books he’d already finished. He was stunned to find that the second time through they were different books. He noticed entirely different points and arguments. Sentences he had highlighted seemed utterly pointless now, whereas sentences he had earlier ignored seemed crucial. The marginalia he had written to himself now seemed embarrassingly simpleminded. Either he or the books had changed. – David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement

I maintain that the same is true of movies, that you can never watch the "same" movie twice, an assertion that shocked the Philosophy and Film instructor whose teaching assistant I was one semester. In our house, David and I are re-watchers as well as re-readers. The other evening we re-watched a wonderfully witty Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts movie, “Notting Hill.” The number of great almost-throwaway lines in the script had us hooting aloud.

The bookstore [someone's big chance: the real bookstore is now for sale] doesn’t play a huge role in “Notting Hill,” but naturally it’s part of the attraction of the movie for a bookseller, and that got me to thinking about other films with bookstore settings. The one that leaps to mind first is the obvious, the popular “You’ve Got Mail.” With Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, who can resist? And the movie has a happy ending, too, with the out-of-business bookstore owner turning children’s book author--probably not the fate of many bookstore proprietors who have gone out of business. Please note that “The Shop Around the Corner,” starring Jimmy Stewart, the film that inspired “You’ve Got Mail,” was set in a leather goods store, not a bookstore. Whole different kettle of fish, from a bookseller’s perspective. How's the market for leather goods these days?

The movie version of “84 Charing Cross,” definitely a bookshop story, was nowhere near as good as the book, but I’m sure it’s hard to make a movie out of years of mail correspondence, with no face-to-face encounters and no action, nothing but the requesting and receiving of books mailed across the Atlantic. Perhaps it ought not to have been attempted.

The Amy Irving character in “Crossing Delancy” works in a bookstore, and, as the organizer of author events, she enjoys the touch of literary glamour on the fringes of her job. The focus of the movie, however, is her search for Mr. Right; as in “Notting Hill,” the bookstore in “Crossing Delancy” is not the main setting of the movie. On the other hand, it’s more than just a brief scene.... Scene? Seen? (Synapses fire, and the mind leaps.) Have you seen “The Answer Man” with Jeff Daniels? Now there’s a film that covers all the bases, from a writer’s life and secrets and his agent’s agonies through the vicissitudes of publishing to the struggles of retail bookselling. I found it riveting and hilarious.

Poking around, I have come up with a couple of movies I never heard of before featuring bookstore themes. Anyone know anything about “The Bookstore” or “Heaven’s Bookstore”? Both are foreign films, the latter Japanese, neither listed on Netflix. I’ve added “The Love Letter” and “Read You Like a Book” to my queue. Will I be disappointed?

Here’s what’s really on my mind: What I'm dying to see are film versions of Christopher Morley’s two classic novels about the bookselling life, Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop. “Could they be updated to a modern setting?” David asked. No, no, a thousand times no! They are period pieces! They are, as I said, classics, iconic works for American booksellers, especially those of us who sell used books and grew up on the Morley dreams. Roger Mifflin must drive the countryside from farm to farm in his horse-drawn gypsy-style wagon in the first story, and the second absolutely must be set in the World War I era. Anything else would be heresy. Please, someone make these movies--but for God’s sake don’t screw them up!

The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, which ran from 1948 to 1955, apparently presented "Parnassus on Wheels" in 1951. I wonder if it was any good. Why has no one since produced film versions of these stories of the eccentric bookseller from Brooklyn? As printed books become objects of nostalgia, surely the time is ripe, and America is ready, for a movie that would dwell lovingly on this important part of our cultural heritage?

Postscript: If you don't know Christopher Morley,introduce him to yourself with this short essay on the thrill of visiting bookshops with an explorer's attitude of discovery, and you'll see why we booksellers with open shops continue to adore this writer as the world whirls by our doors.


P. J. Grath said...

One friend writes to add “Turtle Diary,” with Ben Kingsley and Glenda Jackson, to the list. I’ll have to check out that film. Another reminds me of bookstore scenes in “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “When Harry Met Sally.” A third brought up Johnny Depp’s “The Ninth Gate,” which I remember for the main book dealer character’s unforgivable handling of old, valuable books while SMOKING A CIGARETTE!

Sad comment when only the blogger herself leaves a comment. :(

Gerry said...

Can't have that. But I can't think of any bookstores in movies, either so I'm not much help. Don't see how we could go wrong with Ben Kingsley and Glenda Jackson, though, do you?

I could take us off on a tangent, though. Have you ever commented on John Dunning's "Bookman" world? Some of those would surely make good movies.

P. J. Grath said...

You are a help, Gerry, in opening up a whole new territory. Yes, I know Dunning, and your mention of him reminds me that Walter Mosley also has a bookstore owner character. Movies to be made!


This post is the greatest! I love it and may soon ask your permission to quote you!

P. J. Grath said...

Helen, you have my permission in advance! Just maybe put in a link to the post? I am so glad we are back in touch, my birthday-mate!

P. J. Grath said...

Coming back six months later to add a P.S. Not a whole bookshop movie but a couple of scenes in a famous movie. I've been on a Raymond Chandler bedtime reading kick (only recently switched over to David Abram) and so ordered two different versions of "The Big Sleep" to watch and compare. We viewed the Bogart version last night. Very complicated plot, snappy dialogue--but best of all, the part where I really livened up, there were a couple of bookstore scenes! Back to back, as it were. First Marlowe visits the phony bookstore that's a front for some kind of nefarious backroom dealings (I fell asleep briefly later in the movie and missed exactly what was going on there), and then he goes across the street to the real bookstore
(Acme), where the attractive female bookseller is so taken with him that she closes shop for the afternoon so they can have some privacy. Only for drinking, it would seem. But then, as he's leaving, paused in the doorway, she says suggestively, "If you ever want to buy a book...." I was hoping, of course, that he would go back (and buy a book or not), but he didn't. Still, it perked me up to see bookshop windows in the movie, two bookshops facing each other across the street.