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The Booksellers 2020 ****

Books, books, books! What are they? How do they work? If you’re never heard of a book, then D.W Young’s documentary will be an eye opener; books have been around for a long time now, and even though technology has created all kinds of alternative reading formats, the book is still seen as a valuable object. Destroying a book, or throwing an unwanted one away, still feels like something of a crime.

While The Booksellers considers all kinds of aspects of the literary world, it zeroes in with considerable focus on a story of its own; the world of rare and antiquarian books, specifically the New York market. It encourages the audience to understand why the market is changing; many independent book-stores have gone to the wall, while beloved institutions like The Strand adapt to a changing economic model. ‘Pivot or die,’ one contributor says, and with the rise to prominence of electronic books, the days of the rare book trade may be numbered. An august selection of interviewees discuss how we got here, and what hope there is for the future, Fran Leibowitz (pictured above) and Gay Talese talk while Parker Posey exec-produces.

The building holding a super-eclectic New York book fair is described as ‘over-ripe’ and so are some of the characters contained here; the book trade seems to attract and develop quite eccentric figures, and there’s a fascination in hearing what these articulate figures have to say. Initial chat about ‘inculcating neophytes’ sets a highbrow tone, but most of The Booksellers is about the financial value of books rather than the spiritual side, although the point is probably moot. There is lots of fun to be had here, with lavish be-jewelled volumes or others containing swatches of real mammoth hair; one interviewee coyly closes his illustrated copy of Amish Love before the audience can get a look at the pictures within.

The Booksellers narrows its argument down to considering the importance of booksellers; if your interest is books, you’ll feel that there is far more to be said about the subject. But DW Young’s documentary is something of a literary pleasure, a valentine to New York’s rarefied environs and the arch figures that scuttle around the cavernous streets of Manhattan. Books may be fading from our culture in favour of the temporal fix of digital technology, but it’s not impossible that the book will make a comeback.

A book will always be a cooler accessory than any designer clothing, a book will always be your non-judgemental friend, and a book says something about you that a phone or a computer never could; that you have a genuine inner life. Those of us who love books will love The Booksellers, a documentary that primly celebrates our enduring love for the printed word, from hip-hop to James Bond and beyond.



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  1. I use a ipad for reading, and it’s an enjoyable way to consume a book. It also opens up all kind of possibilities, and it’s a lot easier to take The Goldfinch on holiday in digital form than to lug a massive heavy book around. The collectors in this film fear that digitising literature will end their profession, but I believe the book will survive, in all forms, paper or digital. And I do love to see people reading, however they do it!

    • ‘Pivot or die ‘ is the phrase that jumped out from the film; would love to see a doc that was just about reading! But antiquarian bookselling threatens to be so elitist that it might stop being part of city life…

  2. If you’re never heard of a book

    This made me cry. Because that is the position of so many people here in the US.

    I’m a huge proponent of ebooks. With diabetes affecting my eyes, having something that allows me to read any book in large print is a boon. And with the doorstoppers that I like to read, having all that in bits and bytes on one little device (I have the first iteration of the kindle oasis) is fantastic. I can read one handed and eat or switch hands when my arm gets tired.

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