As a lover of reading since I was a small child, seeing a movie entitled, “The Bookshop” is a no-brainer for me. Knowing that the cast is lead by Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy and Patricia Clarkson just made it that much more appealing.
Not one of the huge-studio films, I trudged off to Manhattan’s Angelika Film Center where one can usually find a pretty good smattering of independent films like “The Bookshop.” Little did I expect to find an unusual source of inspiration.
“The Bookshop,” directed by Isabel Coixet based on a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, follows Florence Green (Mortimer), widowed during World War II and now looking to settle in a small English village. She’s found an abandoned building simply called Old House by the villagers and has purchased it to open a bookshop in the town.
Surprisingly, the town, seemingly devoid of voracious readers (with one exception), initially welcomes the shop until opposition comes from an unexpected person. Violet Gamart (Clarkson), with a hoity-toity air of self-importance permanently etched on her face, decides she wants to use Old House to open a local arts center, except she doesn’t actually do anything to further that goal. It doesn’t take long for the audience to figure that she just wants to assert her upper class self and make life as difficult as possible for Florence.
Emily Mortimer in "The Bookshop" (Greenwich Entertainment)
The town’s reader also doubles as the town’s recluse. Mr. Burnish (Nighy) remains the topic of town gossips who tell Florence all manner of things about him. But he keeps his ear to the ground and isn’t ignorant of what’s going on in town. Through a local boy, he beings a correspondence with Florence about books and tells her how delighted he is about the shop.
When Florence asks his opinion on whether or not to stock the controversial book, “Lolita,” the 1955 novel by Vladirmir Nabokov, he invites her for tea and thus begins a friendly, though bordering on romantic, relationship focused on the love of reading.
A lesser character in the story is Christine (Honor Kneafsey), a bubbly little girl who becomes Florence’s assistant at the bookshop. She tells Florence right away that she has no interest in reading. She’s only there to provide a bit of supplementary income for her family. What’s really wonderful about Christine is that Florence treats her as if she were her own daughter and begins to teach her about the worlds of imagination that reading can unleash on the mind. It’s in this sweet film relationship that I found inspiration.
You see, when I was a kid I thought I was well read. I was always reading. As an adult, I got to know various Sisters in my religious community who were actually well read and I realized that, although I was always reading, I hadn’t read many of what are now considered children’s classics. I was strictly a Hardy Boys fan (so not into Nancy Drew) but I had missed many other books like “Treasure Island” and “The Bridge to Terabithia” and the classic “Winnie the Pooh,” (but I read the Disney ones, though). I do remember reading “Watership Down” so I wasn’t totally deprived.
When I entered the Daughters of St. Paul, religious Sisters dedicated to evangelization through the various forms of media, a big part of which were books, I was in seventh heaven. I was taught that this ministry doesn’t come with as much immediate satisfaction as say, Sisters who were teachers or nurses. Those Sisters got to see the results of their dedication through their students or patients. We worked in publishing and book distribution. Someone might come in our book center and buy a book on prayer, the life of a saint, or help in understanding the faith better. We welcome them, help them find what they’re looking for and say, “God bless you” as they walk out the door. We might never know how that book may touch them or someone else who might pick it up at their home, or whatever. We don’t see the effects of our ministry as easily and readily as do people in other ministries.
That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed “The Bookshop.” It’s not the best movie ever made and it moves along at a slow, gentle pace, but it speaks to the power of the written word. Whether you experience the written word in a paper or electronic form, whether you read for information, education or entertainment, reading opens our minds to ideas and possibilities we may not have considered on our own. It sure did for Christine when Florence took the time to encourage her to read.
Honor Kneafsey and Emily Mortimer in "The Bookshop" (Greenwich Entertainment)
I must confess that I’m still a voracious reader. A few years back I corrected one childhood lack by reading “Treasure Island” during a couple of vacation days at a humble home by the shore. Some books I read now are just fun stories. Others provide me with plenty of food for thought. Others, like the Word of God in the Bible, enable me to reflect and pray on the great love God continues to shower on humanity, even though we sometimes don’t deserve it.
As we move into the fall season of the year when temperatures drop and the throw blanket re-appears on the back of the couch, whether or not you consider yourself a reader, curling up with a good book is a great way to relax, especially if you add your favorite cup of coffee or tea to the mix. Who knows? Maybe God will have just the inspiration you need in an unexpected place.