FlixChatter Review – THE BOOKSELLERS documentary(2019)

Directed by: D.W. Young

Ruth asked me to cover The Booksellers because she knew I was a bookworm, and she’s not wrong. I majored in English because I love reading; the most memorable part of my first date with my boyfriend was browsing Mager’s and Quinn’s discount corner; and my regular visits to Winona aren’t complete without visiting Chapter 2 Books and scouring their densely packed shelves. But my love of books doesn’t compare with the sellers and collectors featured in this beautiful documentary.

The Booksellers is a documentary exploring New York’s book world, from the history and importance of its independent bookstores to a collection of passionate book collectors. The film discusses the practice of book selling and collecting, the future of the printed word, and how the changing times has affected the bookselling industry, and how there is still progress to be made.

Much of the documentary focuses on how technology-specifically, the internet-has affected booksellers. One collector noted that in the 50’s, there were 378 bookstores in NYC; as of the time this was filmed, there were 79. Before the rise of the internet, sellers would scour estate sales and church basement sales to find rare books for their stores. Once it became easier to find rare books online with decreased prices, independent booksellers suffered. Dwindling bookstores are leading to fewer book collectors, as used bookstores are often the introduction to budding enthusiasts. The fact that the world of bookselling hasn’t been particularly welcoming to women or people of color doesn’t help either; even today, only about 15% of independent booksellers are women, and while the number of people of color in the industry has increased, the field still isn’t very diverse.

That’s not to say the world of book collecting isn’t still very active. This documentary is full of people who are so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about rare books, and it’s not just about collecting for the sake of collection. One comment that particularly struck me was that “books are not trophies;” people who collect rare books differ from people who collect art because they usually have a deeply personal connection to the books they buy, whereas art collectors are often more in it as a display of wealth. To view a piece of expensive art someone has feels more like a statement that they have it and no one else does, whereas viewing a rare book in a collection feels like an invitation into the collector’s world.

The documentary itself is a little scattered and unstructured, especially for its over an hour and a half length, and it can feel a little dry in some parts, but it’s still clearly a labor of love. The Booksellers will make you want to run out to your nearest used bookstore (once it’s safe to go out again) and spend a few hours browsing the comfortable, dusty shelves to find something that speaks to you.

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Have you seen THE BOOKSELLERS? Let us know what you think!