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On the Big Screen: Libraries and Bookstores in the Movies

I am a library and bookstore lover, and some of my all-time favorite movies are set in them.  I mentioned You’ve Got Mail in my previous blog on books in the movies, and though it certainly fits this category, I won’t mention it now. Here are my top 5 movies featuring libraries and/or bookstores:

Number 1:  Desk Set (1957) starring Katharine Hepburn (Bunnie Watson) and Spencer Tracy (Richard Sumner).  First of all, you can’t go wrong with a movie starring this iconic couple.  Bunnie is in charge of the reference library at the fictional Federal Broadcasting Network.  Richard is a methods engineer and inventor of EMERAC (Electomagnetic Memory and Research Arithmetical Calculator – in short, a computer).  He is hired by the network to install the computer in the research department, which causes quite a shakeup.  Bunnie matches wits with Richard and EMERAC in this very funny, romantic comedy.  Although filmed in a studio, the Federal Broadcasting Network is supposed to be located at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

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Number 2: Foul Play (1978) starring Goldie Hawn (Gloria Mundy) and Chevy Chase (Tony Carlson).  This is a romantic comedy thriller, and an homage to Alfred Hitchcock movies.  Gloria is a librarian who gets caught up in the middle of a plot to assassinate the Pope.  Tony is a police detective assigned to the case.  Only a few scenes are set in the library, which were actually filmed at the Pasadena Central Library in Pasadena, California.  The rest of the movie scenes are set in several locations throughout the San Francisco area.  (So you there will be the obligatory car chase up and down those famous hills.)  If nothing else, Dudley Moore (Stanley Tibbits) will have you laughing out loud.

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Number 3:  Funny Face (1957) starring Audrey Hepburn (Jo Stockton) and Fred Astaire (Dick Avery).  Funny Face is known more for its musical numbers, fashion sense, and scenes set in Paris than it is for books.  However, the main characters meet when Dick, a fashion photographer, ends up at a shoot in a Greenwich Village bookshop where Jo works.  Jo is outraged by the intrusion of the destructive magazine crew, but Dick is charmed by Jo.  He eventually convinces her to take a modeling gig in Paris, where she would be able to indulge her philosophical pursuits.  “Bonjour, Paris!”  Alas, the bookshop was filmed on a soundstage, but many of the outdoor scenes in Paris are real.

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Number 4:  National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2009) starring Nicolas Cage (Benjamin “Ben” Franklin Gates) and Diane Kruger (Dr. Abigail Chase).  This action/adventure film is right up my history loving alley.  I could have included this in my previous top 5 list because of (1) the story line linking Ben’s ancestor, Thomas, to the diary of John Wilkes Booth; and (2) Ben’s quest for the “President’s Secret Book”.  So why did I include this film in this list?  Because of the scenes that take place at the Library of Congress.  This library lover would love to do some research there in real life!  In addition, the first National Treasure movie also had a scene filmed in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress.

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Number 5:  Beauty and the Beast (1991 animation and 2017 film).  I’m sure I don’t have to explain the plot of these movies to you.  But can I just mention – the Beast’s library?  Forget about being a princess, just let me in the library!

Honorable mention:  Bell, Book and Candle (1958) starring James Stewart (Shephard “Shep” Henderson) and Kim Novak (Gillian Holroyd).  Gillian, an owner of an African art store, casts a love spell on her upstairs neighbor, Shep.  Although this fantasy, comedy, romance film does not have scenes at a library or at a bookstore, it does have scenes in Shep’s office.  So why did I include this mention?  Shep is a book publisher and has my dream office with a fantastic wall of books, complete with library ladder.  Maybe he had the same interior designer as the Beast!

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On the Big Screen: Books in the Movies

Being the book lover that I am, a book can grab my attention no matter where I am — at a bookstore or library, certainly; but I’ve even noticed books on the big screen.  Here are my top 5 favorite movies featuring books.

WARNING: Spoilers may be given in the details below.

Number One:  Serendipity (2001) starring John Cusak (Jonathan Trager) and Kate Beckinsale (Sara Thomas).  While Christmas shopping in a department store, Jonathan and Sara meet when they reach for the same pair of gloves.  They strike up a conversation and then spend a few hours together going from location to location in New York City.  Jonathan is completely smitten with Sara.  Sara, a believer in fate and destiny, wants a sign that they should be together.  Enter the book Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Sara just happens to be carrying this book around with her, so she writes her name and phone number in the book.  She tells Jonathan that she will sell the book the next day and if he is able to find it, they are meant to be together.  Jonathan spends many years searching for the book.  Is Jonathan able to reunite with Sara?  I won’t give everything away! As for the book in the story… several weeks ago, I stumbled upon a used copy of it.  I automatically opened it up looking for the name and phone number! I laughed at myself for doing it, but wouldn’t that have been something if I’d found THE book!

Number 2:  Indian Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), starring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones) and Sean Connery (Henry Jones, Sr.).  The book I’m referring to in this movie is Dr. Jones Sr.’s grail diary.  This fictional book plays such an important part of the movie that it is almost a character itself.  Jones Sr. spends a good portion of his life researching the grail and making notes in his diary.  When he realizes that he is in danger, he sends the dairy to his son, Indy, in order to keep it safe.  It seems that either people want to steal the book, or see that the book is destroyed. If you’ve seen the movie and are a book lover like me, you won’t forget the book burning scene.  Some years ago I thought it would be interesting to track down the location of this movie prop.  I did some research and found a website that discusses the diary, which resides in the Hollywood Museum in Los Angeles.  To learn more about the diary, please click here:  Grail Diary | Indiana Jones Wiki | Fandom

Number 3:  Hocus Pocus (1993) starring Bette Midler (Winifred Sanderson), Sarah Jessica Parker (Sarah Sanderson) and Kathy Najimy (Mary Sanderson).  The Sanderson sisters return to life after 300 years when a boy lights the black flame candle.  Max, his sister, and a friend steal Winifred’s spell book and the Sanderson sisters chase them all over Salem, Massachusetts in an attempt to recover it.  The Sandersons need the book to take the souls from children, thus keeping the sisters alive, young, and beautiful.  The children finally succeed in turning the three witches to dust, but as the credits are rolling, we see a shot of the spell book cover, with the eye opening.  Is this really the end of the Sanderson sisters?  According to an article I found, there were three book props created for this movie, which are now stored in the Disney archives.  If you’d like to know more about the props, please click here:   13 Bewitching Props from Hocus Pocus – D23  

Number 4:  You’ve Got Mail (1998) starring Meg Ryan (Kathleen Kelly) and Tom Hanks (Joe Fox).  What could be better than a movie with a bookstore setting?  Though several books are mentioned in this movie, the book that gets the most attention is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  While chatting anonymously online, Kathleen mentions to Joe that she loves this book.  Joe wants to impress Kathleen, so he reads it.  When their characters are to finally meet in a café, Kathleen leaves the book on the table with a red rose so that Joe will be able to identify her.  Joe discovers his crush is really his arch nemesis, and he decides not to tell Kathleen he has been her online pen pal.  You could say Kathleen is like Elizabeth Bennett – stubborn and only thinks the worst of Joe.  Joe is like Mr. Darcy in that he initially thinks Kathleen is beneath him and her bookshop is small and inconsequential compared to his bookstore chain.  Elizabeth and Darcy marry by the end of their story.  Will Kathleen and Joe?

From my personal collection

Number 5: The Lake House (2006) starring Keanu Reeves (Alex Wyler) and Sandra Bullock (Kate Foster).  Kate and Alex both live in the same lake house, but two years apart.  They discover that they can write to each other by placing letters in the lake house mailbox…and that Alex’s present is 2004 and Kate’s is 2006.  After corresponding for a while, Kate and Alex fall in love.  Kate asks Alex to got to a train station on the day she left her favorite book behind.  The book was Persuasion by Jane Austen, and it had been given to her by her father.  Alex locates it and hides the book under Kate’s floorboards to find at a later time. He marks a passage from the book for Kate, which she reads when she finds the book:  “…there could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison…” They arrange to meet on a certain date.  When Alex does not show, Kate writes to Alex to say goodbye.  Alex begs her to arrange another date, and he says, “What about Persuasion?  You told me…they wait.  They meet again.  They have another chance.”   Do Kate and Alex ever meet?  You’ll have to watch the movie to find out!

Honorable mention: The Princess Bride (1987) starring Cary Elwes (Wesley/Dread Pirate Roberts) and Robin Wright (Buttercup/The Princess Bride). This movie is a film adaptation of William Goldwin’s 1973 novel The Princess Bride. This movie makes my list because I always enjoyed reading to my daughter when she was little. The movie begins with a the late, great Peter Falk as a grandfather reading a book to his grandson. The grandson isn’t interested in the story to begin with, but as the grandfather reads on the tale becomes more enchanting and adventurous. I won’t give away the plot of the movie, but I can tell you that the boy wishes for his grandfather to read the book again the next day.

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Baldwin’s Book Barn

Have you ever read a book that described what you thought sounded like a really cool place, only to discover that this place actually exists? It happened to me several years ago while reading Sheila Connolly’s Let’s Play Dead, which is one of seven books in her Museum Mystery series.Lets_Play_Dead

I love to read books, fiction or nonfiction, with settings in museums, libraries, or bookstores (not surprising!). In the Museum Mystery series, Nell Pratt is the president of the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, a fictional organization based in Philadelphia. In Let’s Play Dead, Nell is invited to a nearby children’s museum for a preview of a new exhibit. A murder at the museum causes Nell to search for the killer. While taking a break from her busy schedule, Nell takes a drive to Chester County to visit a bookstore she calls the Book Barn. As I was reading Connolly’s description of the Barn and its locale, I began to wonder if this place was real. I did a little research and happily discovered that, indeed, Baldwin’s Book Barn in West Chester, Pennsylvania is an actual place!

Baldwins_BooksThe barn that houses the bookstore started its life as a dairy barn in 1822. In 1946, the original founders of Baldwin’s, William and Lilla Baldwin, moved their business into the barn. Today, Baldwin’s has four floors of treasures! This bookstore is so large that they provide visitors with a map to help you navigate each level, with categories clearly labeled. Items are not cataloged at Baldwin’s, so if you’re looking for something in particular, you will need to search the shelves for it.

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Baldwins_BooksAs we made our visit in the winter on a very overcast and damp day, it was wonderful to be greeted by the warmth of the wood stove in the Rare Books room (this is where the main entrance is located). You’ll notice the obligatory scent of old books (a delight to many book lovers); and the creaking floorboards add to the ambiance of the rustic barn setting.

If you’d like to know more about Baldwin’s history or plan a visit, check out their website at http://www.bookbarn.com. We found our treasures – hope you will find yours!

Let’s Play Dead is published by Berkley Prime Crime (July 2011), ISBN 978-0-425-24220-9. For more information on this book and more, go to http://sheilaconnolly.com.