VOD film review: The Booksellers
James R | On 03, Jul 2020
Director: DW Young
Cast: Parker Posey, Fran Lebowitz, Gay Talese, Susan Benne
Watch The Booksellers online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
Books. Remember them? Before TV shows and binge-watching, they were the thing we dived into at weekends, immersing ourselves in stories, characters or just good old non-fiction writing. The advent of the internet has changed the presence of books in our society, and nowhere has that been felt more than in book-collecting circles. The Booksellers, DW Young’s new documentary, introduces us to a gaggle of book dealers in New York, and the result is as niche as it is unexpectedly heart-warming.
The rise of technology brought with it the Kindle and the ebook, which has left many people carrying around several books in one tiny tablet device. At the same time, though, the ability to find a rare book online became suddenly open to anyone with a modem. Somewhere in the intersection of those two trends, there’s been a resurgence in interest in manuscripts and old editions of books – just as the web has democratised information, it has also widened what was one a small, relatively homogenous community to become something younger and more diverse.
What we think of when we hear the word “bookseller” is swiftly upended by a montage of different collectors and dealers midway through the film, which highlights just how thriving this world is. And yet there’s also a poignancy that goes with it, as we hear of several veterans’ memories of a time before chain bookstores, when independent bookstores (just known as “bookstores” back then) were the primary gateway to a more personalised, curated library.
The film is a lively tour of New York’s book scene, populated by an assortment of obsessives, intellects, eccentrics and dreamers, past and present. It ambles from the Park Avenue Armory’s annual Antiquarian Book Fair – where original editions can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars – to the Strand and Argosy bookstores, still standing against all odds, and nosily takes in the beautifully crammed apartments of collectors and buyers too. That some of these places, and auction houses, are still active today, though, is testament to the ongoing appeal of a physical tome to hold in your hands as you turn pages.
Close-ups of ink and spines will tickle the nerve endings of any bibliophile, even as we learn of the darker, more macabre segments of the book world – one dealer proudly tells us that he solely trades in occult tomes, including two bound with human skin. There’s fun to be found in meeting this eccentric characters, who are portrayed sincerely and affectionately by Young, as he balances human interest with a passion for the wonder of books – a passion that soon proves infectious.