The Booksellers (2019)

The Booksellers (2019)
7.0
  • 328
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release year: 2019 ()
  • Running time: 116 min
  • Original Title: The Booksellers
  • Voted: 328

THE BOOKSELLERS is a lively, behind-the-scenes look at the New York rare book world and the fascinating people who inhabit it. Executive produced by Parker Posey and featuring interviews with some of the most important dealers in the business, as well as prominent collectors, auctioneers, and writers, THE BOOKSELLERS is both a loving celebration of book culture and a serious exploration of the future of the book.

#PersonCharacters
  • An Authentic View into the Mysterious World of Rare Books by 10

    The rare book world to some seems like an impenetrable mystery filled withexpensive volumes, well-heeled buyers, and unapproachable and quixotic sellers brimming with disdain for the uninitiated. In fact, it is a very vibrant and welcoming world with a fabulous range of interesting material, many affordable rarities to delight, and down-to-earth dealers that are thrilled with new collectors whose interest they can cultivate. As such, this is a rare and important movie for it opens up that unique world to a broader audience. If you are curious about this movie, your soul already gravitates towards literature and history, but you may not know how easy it is to hold treasures in one's hand and connect on such an intimate level with great authors and events of the past. The movie is a tribute not only to the love affair of the printed word, but to the people who seek it out, catalog it, contextualize it, and make it available to libraries and collectors. The movie also deserves great credit for highlighting women and minorities (among others) and the importance of the growing inclusiveness in the rare book world in terms of collecting and preserving their narratives and helping assemble the first hand material that will help tell many untold stories.

  • more to a book than reading by 8

    Greetings again from the darkness. One might think that the only thing less interesting than watching someone read a book would be watching them talk about a book they are buying and not intending to read. Director-Editor-Producer DW Young somehow manages to make the topic quite engaging ... due in no small part to the stream of bibliophiles and antiquarian booksellers we meet. The philosophy of the film is best expressed through one of the many spot-on quotes sprinkled throughout: "Books are a way of being fully human."

    It's either cheating or hedging one's bet when a director secures an interview with the eloquent Fran Lebowitz for a documentary. If the documentary is about books, well that's even better. She perfectly describes the joy in "crawling around" bookstores in search of just the right one. She recalls the days when bookstores lined 4th Avenue, in what had been labeled "Book Row." These days, only one remains - The Strand, which was founded in 1929. We learn that in the 1950's, there were 358 bookstores in New York City, and now your search for a good read is limited to 79. The oldest remaining NYC bookstore is the stunning Argosy on E. 59th, and it's being operated by the three daughters of Louis Cohen who opened the store in 1925. Ownership of the building is key to the bookstore remaining open for nearly 100 years.

    Director Young takes us inside the beautiful and historic Park Avenue Armory for the NYC Antiquarian Book Fair. It's here where we see a Fidel Castro doll (I guess everything is collectable!), and more importantly get a feel for how the rare book trade works. These collectors are obsessive about their books and compulsive in their mission of the next rare discovery. We see warehouses, apartments, offices, and stores jam packed with books, and to cap it off, we hear from the folks who have made this their passion. Not just bibliophiles like Ms. Lebowitz, Gay Talese, and Susan Orlean, but the boots-on-the-ground booksellers and collectors. There is even a segment on Martin Stone, the legendary book scout or bookrunner, who was also a rock 'n roll guitarist.

    "The internet killed the hunt." A perfect example is given on how the world wide web changed book selling and collecting. In the old days, a collector could spend years assembling a full collection of Edith Wharton books, whereas today, a credit card and an afternoon on the internet would yield the same results. This is 'buying' contrasted with 'collecting', and the old school collectors have either adjusted or are struggling. Even auctions have changed, and Bill Gates' purchasing Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Codex Leicester" via phone ... for $28 million ... is an example.

    Movies about book dealers are discussed, including THE BIG SLEEP and UNFAITHFUL, and we see a clip of Larry McMurtry's speech championing book reading and bookstores. It should also be noted that Mr. McMurtry is a long time book seller and collector from Archer City, Texas. One of the industry's new celebrities is the ultra-charming Rebecca Romney, who became famous for her stints on TV's "Pawn Stars" as the resident book expert. Ms. Romney is leading the new wave of collectors, and her passion as a glass-half-full type is contagious.

    Author Maurice Sendak said "There's so much more to a book than reading." Here, we learn about the importance of book jackets and special bindings, and how these rare books are actually historical evidence ... artifacts of culture. This explains why 'book burning' has the history it does as both symbolizing and physically accomplishing the destruction of certain segments of society. We also learn those in this business don't think highly of Kindle. The words may be the same, but the experience certainly isn't.

    The film is billed as a behind-the-scenes look at the New York rare book world, but it spends more time exploring the folks who make-up this business/industry/lifestyle. Their passion, and one might even call it a fetish, is quite interesting. The argument can be made that their work is quite important in preserving history. Smooth jazz accompanies the story, and it's only fitting that I learned a new word: Incunabulum, which is an early printed book. These collectors express concern about their legacy, so hopefully the film will spur even more people to understand the historical relevance of books in our cultured society.

  • A Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Seldom-Covered But Worthwhile Topic by 9

    The number of films which feature rare book trading you could probably count on your fingers. One of the few is "The Ninth Gate" (loosely based on "Club Dumas" by Perez-Reverte) with Johnny Depp, an antiquarian book scout who's on the sleazier end of the spectrum. (He uses the old "high ball/low ball trick" to acquire an important antiquarian edition of "Don Quixote" printed in 1780.) Another is "84 Charing Cross Road". A few rare and antiquarian booksellers appear at the beginning of a few fantasy films, such "The Neverending Story", often as rather cantankerous older eccentrics in tweed jackets and droopy plaid bow-ties. (I wish the plaid bow-tie would be put out of its misery.)

    "The Booksellers" offers a more nuanced perspective featuring those trading in antiquarian, rare and collectible books. Most of the booksellers given airtime have been in the trade a long time but there are a fair number of relatively young newcomers who are also given screen-time. (The age of 40 is regarded as "young" in the trade.) It also chronicles a bit about the history of collectible and antiquarian book trading and even a segment about the dynamics of auctions. (Often films having an auction scene are nearly exclusively fine art.)

    I am an antiquarian book collector myself (mostly books printed circa 1500 to 1700), and I've bought a few items from some of the booksellers profiled. It is interesting that during the 20th century, there were dozens and in some cases 100's of used bookstores in urban areas. Books have been an important part of many people's lives. And yet for elusive reasons, the world of books gets sparse media attention, be it films, television, and even books about books. Book collectors I think tend to be under the radar. Until I joined the Book Club of California, I knew almost no book collectors.

    Several of the people highlighted: Rebecca Romney, whose sort of the closest equivalent to a movie star in the antiquarian book world (if there is such a thing), in large part because of her book appraisals on the History Channel's "Pawn Stars"; David Bergman, a pretty down-to-earth mid-level NY antiquarian bookseller who specializes in large antiquarian with prints and engravings; and Henry Wessells of James Cummins, bookseller. Nicholas Lowry, who many PBS viewers will recognize because of his appraisals of vintage posters on the Antiques Roadshow US, offers compelling commentary on the history of book collecting. So does Stephen Massey, also a regular on the Antiques Roadshow US. One of Massey's claims to fame was being the auctioneer at the sale of Leonardo da Vinci's notebook. Winning bidder: Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. Massey also authenticated a copy of the Shakespeare First Folio which had been stolen from Durham University, Britain, in the 1990's.

    One thing I appreciated about the documentary is a few book collectors and curators were interviewed. Often, material concerning the antiquarian and collectible book trade focuses only on the sellers. There wouldn't be sellers if there were no collectors! Michael Zinman, collector of early-printed books in America receives ample treatment and several booksellers comment on his focus. I also enjoyed Kevin Young, poet and curator, talking about material written and published during the Harlem Renaissance.

    Two recurring themes of the documentary: that the antiquarian book traders are aging (both among dealers and collectors) and how the internet has in a lot of ways changed in some cases stifled old business models. From a collector's perspective, the internet has made collecting much easier. Simultaneously I can see how it radically forced booksellers to alter a modus operandi which worked for nearly two centuries. A first edition from 1975 which might have easily sold for $250 in 1995, if only because it wasn't easy to find a copy locally, is now competing with copies on the internet which might be priced at say $50.

    I think the antiquarian booksellers need to find new and exciting ways to tap potential customers and future collectors. I'm actually a renaissance faire participant and I exhibit books printed in the 1500s to early 1600's. It's interesting how few people know that these books are bought and sold routinely. At renaissance faire, when exhibiting a Geneva Bible from 1589, it is not uncommon for people to say "How did you get this?" The answer: "I bought it from a bookseller!"

  • Kinda of meh... by 4

    People collect for the sake of collecting. From seashells to space memorabilia, anything goes.Collecting is fun, but the sad thing is that collectors can be insane.I can understand why Gutenberg's bible is an extremely valuable book.But, paying thousands and thousands for a first edition of a so-so James Bond book is somewhat stupid, imho.In the hand of these insane collectors, books lose their value as tools to transmit ideas and become only objects. It does not matter anymore what is between the covers, as long as it is a rare object.The whole thing does not make sense. I believe that most of the collectorswho buy these rare books never read them.They could have made a show about collecting Barbie dolls. The end result would be the same.

  • Mixed Bag Here by 6

    One if these documentaries that can be quite fascinating one moment then quite dull the next. So, for me, a mixed bag here.

    Gives an inside look at the seldom seen world of antique booksellers and collectors in NYC.. The film also offers a little more optimism about the field being carried on by out younger generation, although the modalities will be most different.

    For those viewers that can get through the, at tines, stodginess, the doc does offer some good rewards.

#PersonCrew
1Peter Boltecinematographer
2D.W. Youngdirector
3Judith Mizrachyproducer
4Dan Wechslerproducer