Thank You, Reese Witherspoon

For years, one of my favorite gifts to give has been a book from my own bookshelf. I feel, somehow, that in giving someone one of my own books, that I am giving them not only the book but a part of me, that somehow I have imprinted myself into the paper and ink of the book. Whether this has always been more meaningful to the recipient, I cannot say, but it has always been more meaningful to me.

Ten years ago I worked on the movie “Sweet Home Alabama,” which starred Reese Witherspoon. Reese was sweet and even friendly, and we had more than one conversation together. One of those conversations was about literature, and in the discussion I mentioned that one of my favorite writers is O. Henry, who many consider the father of the American Short Story. Reese didn’t recognize the name, though, so I told her about some of his stories and even a bit about the man himself.

When we were ready to wrap the show, I decided that I would give Reese my copy of O.Henry’s complete short stories. I had had that book on my shelf for about twenty-five years, and had pulled it off the shelf hundreds of times to enjoy a story. The book, in other words, was very dear to me. I told Reese this when I gave it to her, hoping she would appreciate just how special the book was to me, and how special a gift it was meant to be.

Reese was sweet, and thanked me for the book, but from the moment she accepted it I knew I had made a mistake. This book, my precious book, was going to end up in some attic or basement, or perhaps even in a dump somewhere. This wouldn’t have mattered, really, if I had bought her a book, but this was meant to be giving her something not only to enjoy, but to remember me by. I guess I should have known better, but it was too late.

Earlier this month I worked a day on a movie called “Devil’s Knot,” in which Reese is one of the stars. I didn’t really expect Reese to even recognize me, but as I passed her in a hallway she looked at me and knew she had seen me before, so she said, “Hi.” After just a moment it was clear (to me at least) that not only had she seen me before but that it hadn’t been recently, so she said, “Oh! Hi!” After another beat she actually recognized me, and she said, “You’re the one who gave me that wonderful book of O.Henry stories!” She told me that it is still on her bookshelf and that she has read stories in it many times.

Thank you, Reese. After ten years I now know that my book has found a good home.

With Reese Witherspoon, 2001