tue 27/10/2020

The Booksellers review – a deep dive into the eccentric world of bookselling | reviews, news & interviews

The Booksellers review – a deep dive into the eccentric world of bookselling

The Booksellers review – a deep dive into the eccentric world of bookselling

Brimming with charm, this documentary is a rare treat

Picture an antiquarian book dealer. Typically, its all Harris Tweed, horn-rimmed specs, and a slight disdain for actual customers. At the beginning of D.W.

Picture an antiquarian book dealer. Typically, its all Harris Tweed, horn-rimmed specs, and a slight disdain for actual customers. At the beginning of D.W. Youngs new documentary we are guided around New Yorks rare book dealerships, and witness how, in the age of the internet, this rare breed may be going the way of the Gutenberg press.

Whilst the impact of Amazon (specifically the Kindle) as well as Barnes & Noble are mentioned, the heart of Youngs work focuses on the dozen or so booksellers who are trying against the odds to make a living trading in leather-bound books and literary ephemera. The older generation feel that time might be up for the trade, but theres a handful of young hopefuls who believe ink and paper will never go out of fashion. Adam Weinberger in The BooksellersYoung has an impressive array of talking heads on show. Theres todays answer to Dorothy Parker, Fran Lebowitz, and New Yorker writer Susan Orlean. Young is keen to provide a rich portrait of this esoteric world, exploring everything from the historical gender imbalance of the trade to the recent inclusion of black dealers and collectors. 

As much as it captures the book world, the documentary is also a portrait of an ever-changing city. Much like Londons Cecil Court on Charing Cross, once a haven of book lovers, the windows filled with leather-bound books are vanishing from New York. Young is out to debunk a few stereotypes too. Yes, there are the “little dusty Jewish men who get annoyed if you try to buy a book,” as Lebowitz describes them, but theres also Mikey, who loves playing baseball 7-days a week, or the host of female booksellers, like the pioneering collector Madeleine Stern, who uncovered the rather more racy work of Louisa May Alcott.

We also see rare behind-the-scenes glimpses, like one collector’s New Jersey warehouse, packed to the rafters with 300,000 books. Or the envy-inducing Walker Library which is designed to recall an Escher painting, and where the books are organised by size, not subject. 

The craft of the film is a little messy, and there are no identifying title cards which is frustrating. The cuts are a little abrupt, even jarring at times, as Young shifts to another aspect of the book world. No matter though, before long youve been eased back into the documentary, helped by David Ullmann’s jazzy score, which feels deeply suitable for the subject matter. 

For book lovers, this documentary is a no-brainer. Here is a rich snapshot of a beautifully eccentric world, full of people who love books for the beautiful objects they are. 

@JosephDAWalsh 

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters