News of Nora Ephron’s death prompted me to revisit an old favorite: You’ve Got Mail. It was probably one of the first few films my sister and I saw alone in the theatre, and then we often revisited it thanks to a VCD we bought. In 1998 when I saw it first, it was the cutest, romantic-est, absolutely the best thing ever-est to have ever released, and it was to re-live that romantic euphoria that I kicked my husband off the sofa last night, put my feet up, clicked on the play button, and invited Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks to sweep me off my feet.
14 years, you are an awful lot of time. Not only was the courtship quite cheesy and the plot borderline silly at times, grey-haired old me was also unable to focus on the mush! All I could think of was the chain bookstore vs. mom-and-pop bookstore showdown, and how the very Internet that gave the smug and idle book mogul the opportunity to meet and date an idealistic-yet-hapless “shopgirl” has fantastically pulled the rug from under the mammoth bookshop chains around the world.
We were in the US recently, and the husband (whom I trapped online, perhaps encouraged by this same movie, I now realize) took me around Seattle, his favorite city in that large and scary (to my now-rural senses) country. Most of his time on his earlier visits there was spent in bookshops, and over the years I was wooed with beautiful books, bags and umbrellas (don’t ask) from Borders, Barnes and Noble, and others. I was lucky to browse through Borders in my London schooldays, but they had vanished by the time I finally made it to the US. We visited Barnes and Noble four times in our three days there, and I am sorry to say that not only did we not find a single book on our reading list on their shelves, but we shamelessly used their free wifi to compare price labels with Kindle prices and found the difference quite drastic. A second-hand bookstore fulfilled all our wildest bibliographic fantasies, much to the amusement of our friends, and we lugged home a bargain (by European standards). We went to the chain bookstore only for the novelty of the experience, the very thing that Meg Ryan’s shop was providing in 1998 New York.
Meanwhile, big chain stores continue to swallow small businesses whole, and You’ve Got Mail2.0 could well be an online (preferably over iPhones) romance between a local baker and a grocery chain owner, a tailor and a department store heir, or a carpenter and whoever (God bless them!) runs Ikea.