“Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day.” It’s belongs to a personal movie genre: “Movies I love, whose fine qualities didn’t come through to me in the trailer.” The trailer and the ads just didn’t make any kind of impression, despite the fact that the movie stars the always-good Frances McDormand, and thus I didn’t see it until it turned up on cable. I liked it so much that I saw it a bunch of times and then when it went away, I bought a copy for my library. I almost never buy movies.
“Miss Pettigrew” is a gentle, sweet-hearted character piece centering around a magnificent woman who’s long led a life filled with gentle disappointment but also of quiet bravery and admirable endurance. It’s chock-full of strong performances, wall to wall with lovely 1930s set designs, boasting a soundtrack in which even incidental music is worth a download, and powered by a confident sort of storytelling that trusts the audience to pick up on subtlety. It’s dramatic without ever being loud.
And yup, it’s a genre. Almost all of the movies I’ve bought in the past year are titles that I was aware of but wasn’t able to enjoy until they just sort of landed on my TV one day. “The Descendants,” “Up In The Air,” “The Big Year,” “Moonrise Kingdom“…each of them so badly under-served by their theatrical trailers that the only way I was ever going to see these films was if I was only required to look up from my bed and not reach for the remote.
I even liked “Miss Pettigrew” enough to seek out the 1937 novel by Winifred Watson. The book was just as much a treat as the movie. The story is just different enough to make the novel into a different experience and Watson gives the reader more access to Guinevere Pettigrew’s internal monologue. I was enjoying the book so much that I couldn’t bear to not finish reading it during my trip to San Francisco for WWDC.
I should mention that “Miss Pettigrew” is out of print, and you can’t buy it as an ebook unless you can read German. I had to buy a secondhand copy via Amazon. Given that my determination to travel light is starting to amplify itself from a Skill to a Mania, the fact that I chose to tote a slab of paper during a trip in which I only had one shirt is a level of endorsement that can’t be quantified, but must be some multiple of the prestige of a Pulitzer.
I can’t even remember the last time I read a treeware book that didn’t come to me as a gift. As I often say: only a print book can convey the pleasure of a book…but ebooks are just as good at serving the pleasures of reading.
But this trip reminded me of a unique advantage of printed editions.
I finished “Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day” on Tuesday morning. Later that day, I was having tea with a good pal of mine and catching up on things. I praised the book and then recommended that he read it, by way of handing over my copy right there.
I miss lending books to people. I also miss borrowing books from people (and not because I’m a cheapskate. Though the fact that before I handed Miss Pettigrew over, I delicately removed the dollar that I had been using as a bookmark would argue against that point). I enjoy the borrowing and the lending because it’s a tactile, personal, and deeply satisfying endorsement. This is an object that I’ve been holding and carrying for days, weeks, or months. I’ve touched every one of these 240 pages. It has the stains of a few lunches on it.
And remember: I bought it as a secondhand book! It doesn’t have the ugly scar of a remainder, which means that this title had been read by others. The book becomes a shibboleth among people who like to read.
Lest I wallow my way into a luddite essay about the evils of Progress (written on a manual typewriter, with a lede paragraph that explains precisely why the author only writes with manual typewriters), I should point out that I was only able to get this book because Amazon makes it just as easy to locate and buy an out-of-print book as a new title. And though I definitely want to read this book again one day, I gave it away without a second thought. I knew I could get my hands on another copy just as easily.
Isn’t that a terrific twist to modern reading? I used to have to protect my out-of-print books. It was though my copy of “The Book Of Lists” were “The Book Of Kells.” Now, I will eagerly give away a book such as Simon Gray’s “Fat Chance” and not even expect to ever get it back. If it stays in a friend’s library for two years before he reads it…isn’t that a win?
Gifting a book that I like just feels like a more thoughtful kind of recommendation. I would never have watched “Miss Pettigrew” unless the movie happened to already be in my house already. And getting a friend to like something you like is way too important to leave to chance.