One of the reasons why I love the show The Office so much is that by the final scene of the final episode one breathes a sigh of contentment, turns off the program and walks about the rest of the day smiling. When you take part in a story by listening to it, reading it, watching it (etcetera) there is a certain amount of trust involved. After all, one is investing a lot of time and (often) emotional energy into the exploit, and in the case of text and audio mediums has actively co-created the story in the mind and heart—oh, the betrayal that can be felt when a most beloved character is killed off senselessly or loses his fortune or has her dreams smattered! With The Office, every good thing that I could have hoped for the characters comes to pass. I won’t say what happens, but you almost experience that the unspoken agreement between storyteller and recipient has been carried out with supreme sympathy, to the point of being comfortingly indulgent (at least I did). Everything is as it should be.
The Bookshop is decidedly not one of those stories, but I liked it anyway.
Florence Green wants to open up a bookshop. It was in the book industry that she met her late husband; a happy pair, their time together was cut short sixteen years prior at the beginning of the war. Florence purchases an old house and sets to work opening the one and only bookshop in town, unperturbed by the protests of some who want the long-unused property for themselves. This is one of the things that I liked very much about Florence: her mind is iron-clad in such single-minded focus that the comments of quibblers, however uncharitable, cannot hope to occupy it. She is kind and courageous and a wonderful heroine. This is especially vivid in her relationship with Christine Gipping, a little girl of advanced whereabouts who helps in the bookshop after school. Meanwhile, the extremely introverted, anti-social, and bookish Edmund Brundish begins a correspondence with Florence that flourishes into a friendship of profound mutual respect. Florence introduces Edmund to the works of Ray Bradbury and Edmund agrees to share his thoughts with her regarding whether or not Lolita is a ‘good book’ and if it ought to be available to the people of Hardborough. Unsatisfied with anything short of her own way, Violet Gamart (a well-connected and influential Hardboroughian) could very well undue this happy, peaceful state of affairs.
The Bookshop was an easy sell for me with its implicit promises of bookishness within bookishness (book-ception, if you will), but this was one of the rather rare (and in this case peculiar) occasions when the film was better than the book! Although the two are strikingly similar, the film is fuller and more thought-provoking in my opinion (and I have therefore drawn moreso from the cinematic retelling in this post). The sensory pleasure of the archetypal bookshop in The Bookshop should not be understated or undersold; if you are the sort of individual who might luxuriate in such a thing, I highly recommend this article about how millennials (yes, millennials) are saving print books and the Toronto stores that sell them. In the film-version of The Bookshop (less so in the source material) I was struck by the concurrence of two cooperative inclinations: the inclination to read abundantly and the inclination to take long walks out of doors. These are shared between Florence and Edmund, characters like Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, and even (real) people like Stephen King (see his memoir, On Writing). Whether I finally realized or was simply reminded of this, there truly is a correlation between these sorts of activities, with written output being the natural counterpart to reading. According to an article put out by NBC news “engaging in activities that allow our minds to wander promotes a mental state conducive to innovative ideas…” Furthermore:
One Stanford University study found that walking increased creative output by an average of 60 percent… According to the study, “walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.”
I’ve recently been re-listening to Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge for the third (or possibly the forth) time around. At one point, Wiking recounts asking an audience at a lecture to close their eyes and picture the last time they were truly happy (an exercise worth doing at any rate). I was driving so I didn’t close my eyes, but I did pause the book to consider this question; one of the clearest recollections was of walking down Clarence Street on a balmy day—the white picket fence under the shade of large trees reminding me of something out of Anne of Green Gables. Later in Wiking’s book, some research from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and Centre for Health Economics at the University of York is presented: “[They] discovered that people who over the years had changed from commuting by car or bus to cycling or going on foot became happier after the switch… even though it could make their commute longer.”
Walking digression aside, if you do watch The Bookshop movie I very much expect that you will enjoy Bill Nighly’s (marvelous) narration of Edmund’s letters every bit as much as I did and may observe that Emily Mortimer’s performance could not have been more perfect. The book is only 118 pages long (allowing for minor variances between editions, with forwards and so forth) and is a wave of a story that will have you swell up to the full, hover stunned for a moment, and then be swept out with the tide.
These are my five favourite samples from the original work:
- “…courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested.”
- “Will-power is useless without a sense of direction.”
- “…one can have a very satisfactory party all by oneself.”
- “A good book is the precious life-blood of a masterspirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life, and as such it must surely be a necessary commodity.”
- “In the end, she valued kindness above everything.”