It all started, more or less, with my thinking about the romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail and quickly ramped up into something else, a little like the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. A little boy with a plate full of cookies shares one with a nattily dressed mouse. Before long the mouse wants a glass of milk, which leads to a long list of other demands that leads finally to the mouse drawing a picture to hang on the fridge. The refrigerator reminds the sartorial mouse of milk, and brings him full circle to wanting a cookie. It’s a charming circular tale.
I thought of the book because I thought of the movie because what I was really thinking about was independent bookshops. (Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail owns one.) And the reason I was thinking about independent bookshops is because of Le Pari des Libraires. Bookstore Bets.
Imagine this. Your neighborhood, like twenty or so others in a large city, supports several small, interesting independent bookshops. Some of them may be familiar enough with you that they suggest books they think you’ll like. But once a year the tables are turned. The booksellers ask you to make recommendations. You, along with other people who live in the neighborhood and city, are invited to share thoughts about your favorite books. Maybe it’s one you recently discovered, or maybe it’s a childhood classic. Either way, you write a little something about why you love a particular book on a pretty card. And you drop that pretty card off at your favorite bookshop, let’s say sometime during the first two weeks in June. Then—again, let’s say—on June 14, between four o’clock in the afternoon and nightfall, you pop into your neighborhood bookshop. Pretty cards are displayed in the window and on tables, matched to the books they recommend. On another table there’s wine and maybe something to nibble. Other people have come by as well to talk about books over un verre de l’amitié, a friendly drink, for this, the fifth edition of a special event celebrating independent bookstores in Paris.
Le Pari des Libraires follows last month’s Paris’ Écrit, the first annual celebration of the handwritten word, a festival about taking time to write a letter, a card, a word. Over 200 places scattered across the city, from libraries and museums to mayors’ offices, took part, including post offices that sold special stamps issued for the occasion. None of this may sound like a big deal, but I love that Paris is a city unabashedly in love with words. It feels civilized and intimate. And I can vouch for neighborhood bookshop parties, where I’ve met people I now collaborate with, made friends.
My cookie trail led to Miklós László. Born Nicholaus Leitner in Budapest, he was a playwright who became a naturalized American citizen. The storyline of his best-known play, translated as Parfumerie, was the basis of the 1940 movie The Shop Around the Corner. Both of these inspired Nora Ephron’s screenplay for You’ve Got Mail, which kept the romantic line but changed the shop to a children’s bookshop. In 2001, László’s translated script for The Shop Around the Corner was adapted once again, this time for the French stage. And in 2002, La Boutique au Coin de la Rue won five Molière Awards, including Best New Play.