Best Bookish Bits in “You’ve Got Mail”

I could spend most of my life saying “I love You’ve Got Mail” and it would not be enough to express exactly how much I love this film.

I might be a little guilty of hyperbole there. But only a little. This film is a book lover’s dream come true. What makes me love it all the more, however, is that beyond all the references to books and literature, it’s also about the power of the written word.

Katherine Kelly and Joe Fox are in the book business. Katherine owns a small children’s book store, The Shop Around the Corner, while Joe is heir apparent to the corporate superstore Fox Books. Unbeknownst to both, they are also email correspondents. While they are at loggerheads in real life, they end up falling for each other in cyberspace.

Kathleen’s beautiful store

Ah, The Shop Around the Corner. I wish I’d frequented a shop like this when I was a child. Heck, I wish I could frequent a shop like this now. Kathleen’s store is a dream. It looks quaint, cosy, and safe. It holds fond memories for both the staff and clients, and acts as a symbol for books and words bringing people together. To paraphrase Nora Ehpron, it’s the idealistic vision, the one we all have in our heads of the perfect bookstore.

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The significance of reading, and the impact is has on you as a child

Kathleen’s store is clearly more than just a store. It’s a haven where people can come to find a good story, or just to find themselves. It sounds very corny, but sometimes life is corny.

When you read a book as a child it becomes a part of your identity, in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.

Kathleen inflicting her love of Pride and Prejudice on Joe

The film reflects the themes of Austen’s most popular novel, with the two protagonists immediately deciding to be at loggerheads due to their respective positions in the book industry. The book comes up several times, both in Kathleen and Joe’s cyber discussions and in real life arguments. It’s alternately hilarious and poignant.

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Kathleen reading Roald Dahl’s Boy to a group of enraptured children

Having loved this book as a child, I was thrilled to recognise the excerpt Kathleen is reading: that of the dangerous, and daring mouse plot!


The butterfly on the train

I’m always excited when strange and wonderful things I’ve read in books happen in real life. And when Kathleen talks about a butterfly that got on the subway, recalling a picture book she’d read about exactly that, I could understand her excitement.

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Fox Books

In one of the more heartbreaking scenes, Kathleen walks through the aisles of her business rival, Fox Books. She has just closed her store, her mom’s store, for the last time, and she picks through the aisles of the superstore barely holding back tears. She can’t help realizing, though, that this too is a book haven for many. Children lounge between the aisles flipping through picture books, and people sit in armchairs absorbed in the pages of a novel. The irony, of course (making the heartbreaking scene even worse), is that in our current climate, even Fox Books would be in danger of shutting down.


Kathleen and Joe’s correspondence

Kathleen and Joe first connect through words. They meet online, end up chatting, and start emailing each other. They discuss things like the influences of Starbucks on the sense of self, how New York city is in a constant state of change, and coming to terms with the worst version of yourself. The written word plays an important role in both their lives, and it’s ultimately what brings them together.

The odd thing about this form of communication is that you’re more likely to talk about nothing than something. But I just want to say that all this nothing has meant more to me than so many somethings.

Kathleen’s apartment

It’s bright, it’s homey, and most importantly, it’s full of books.


The agony that all bookworms go through when comparing their lives to fictional worlds

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, valuable, but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So goodnight, dear void.

This is one of my favourite lines from the movie, because it doesn’t simply lament the fact that life isn’t as grand and full of adventures as it seems in the book. Instead, Kathleen looks inwards, questioning whether or not she has been active enough in expanding her life, in opening herself up to worlds that are beyond the pages of a book. It’s something I’m sure a lot of readers go through. I certainly do.

There we are. The best bookish bits from You’ve Got Mail. Have you seen this film? What was your favourite part? Are there other equally bookish films? If so, I beg of you, please tell me.

* image sources are linked in the images


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