Smell The Books: You’ve Got Mail in Retrospect

It was inevitable that a movie centered on the up-and-coming technology of email and chat rooms would eventually become outdated. This I know.

But when I settled in to watch You’ve Got Mail for about the thousandth time, I realized a whole new level to which this movie now dates itself. Sure, the fashion of clunky shoes and tights has gone away (until the hipsters get ahold of it). No one goes in AOL chat rooms anymore. Dial-up is a cute nod to antiquity. I have to wonder how well the characters would have been able to maintain their anonymity had Facebook existed back then.

What I didn’t expect was the interesting way the central conflict has played itself out in real life. In the movie, Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen, owns an independent children’s bookstore. Tom Hanks’s character, Joe, is the heir of a big box bookstore called Fox Books, a bookstore comparable to Barnes & Noble.

The story is that Fox Books is opening a location down the street from Kathleen’s store, Shop Around the Corner. Despite a hard fight from Kathleen, Fox Books puts Shop Around the Corner out of business; the independent bookstore is no competition for Fox Books, a large store with lots of titles and coffee.

This conflict is one of the aspects of the movie that doesn’t feel completely antiquated; small, independent bookstores still get muscled out by larger booksellers. But what I didn’t foresee was that nowadays, the big box bookstores are in danger of extinction as well.

It seems that not a week goes by without my hearing some new story of the dangers posed to brick & mortar bookstores (big or small) by online sales. This week, The New York Times ran a story on how Barnes & Noble is good for sellers like Amazon because browsing a bookstore is usually how a reader finds a book to read in the first place. The online environment does not lend itself as easily to browsing. I hate, however, to think of a brick and mortar bookstore as merely a vehicle for browsing.

I’ve always enjoyed the movie You’ve Got Mail. With the killer combination of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and the writing of Nora Ephron and the indulgence of bookish geekery, it’s one of my favorites. But it reminded me of the importance of bookstores. It’s not something that needed reminding, per se, but rather drove it home for me again. Browsing in bookstores is important. Finding new books and new authors is essential. Find an independent bookstore and get to know the owner. Embrace the romance of bookshelves, of paperbacks you can flip through and sample. Walk into a Barnes & Noble and take a deep breath. Smell the coffee. Then go smell the books. Buy one, right then and there, impulsively. Repeat often.

(Smelling your computer screen does not compare. I think you’ll agree.)

13 thoughts on “Smell The Books: You’ve Got Mail in Retrospect

  1. I am ashamed (or proud) to say that we watch all the same things. I just rewatched this for the thousandth time, too. Gurl, you are reading my mind!

  2. I’m sad to say that while I love old books, and do collect them, these days my Kindle is my method for reading. I keep in with me at all times..even reading while waiting in line somewhere. Sad I know..forgive ,me!

  3. This is one of the things I dislike most about Orlando. Little in the way of independent restaurants, nothing, so far as I know, in the way of independent bookstores. Little, in fact, in the way of anything interesting. I really should have been born 150 years earlier (no AOL, just messengers on horseback). Anyway, if any of you live in Orlando and would like to disagree with me, I’d be happy to chat about it. After all, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve already tipped the “interesting” scales in your favor.

  4. You’ve Got Mail is my favorite movie of all time. Hearing about bookstores – big or small – closing makes me so sad. I refuse to go the e-book route, and just love holding an actual book in my hands and turning the pages.

  5. You see those comics now and then where kids in the future are looking at a book and they have no idea what it is. I live in a house full of books. I’ve loved books all my life. I also love the freedom of the Kindle to give me a book in an instance when I live literally hours from a real bricks and mortar bookstore. I can’t imagine no bookstores or no books. Hopefully when the dust settles there will be room for small and big alike with e-books slipping in as well. Who says you can’t have it all.

    1. I’m hoping for the same thing! I love the convenience of a Kindle – especially when Amanda deploys and wants to read on the ship – but I love, love, love pages and binding.

  6. it should be noted that i really, really wish tights and chunky shoes a la “reality bites” would come back. i miss that.
    i still refuse to purchase e-books of any kind. computers do NOT smell the same, and you can’t feel them, or fold their little corners, or any of that. i’m a big proponent of books, period, and i love it when i find things in small, indie bookstores. I think the biggest obstacle in the browse-versus-purchase discussion may be that (not unlike walmart as compared to your local grocery), the big box prices are generally lower. and if the brick and mortar prices aren’t lower, certainly amazon is: there’s really no beating an amazon price, including shipping (b/c usually it’s free). so that’s my hurdle: I can buy a cookbook in place A for $35, or i can buy it at Amazon for $16. I just did that, in fact. I wish it weren’t so, but unlike fresh produce, the book is the same in both places, so it’s hard (sometimes) to justify a double-price purchase. Now, i still do it, because i believe in support, but it’s not always the easiest thing. But i do it for the books. 🙂

    1. I’m kind of with you on the tights. I worked some chunky-chunky shoes back in the day. And I’m so there on the books. It’s tricky because reading on a budget is necessary when you read a lot. Physical books are where it’s at for me. I want to smell them and flip pages and underline my favorite parts and puts hearts in the margins. Not something you can do with e-readers (though I find e-readers incredibly convenient when it comes to old classic books that you can get for free).

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