D.W. Young's easygoing examination of New York's rare and antique book scene makes for interesting, if unremarkable, viewing
If you've ever wandered the city streets and passed an antique bookshop, only to wonder who it is that dares to venture into these dusty stores, who might own them, or how they're still able to function in the current climate, D.W. Young's affable documentary The Booksellers is sure to prove a minor object of fascination in and of itself.
It's an admittedly shapeless film that tends to dart back and forth, with no real allegiance to any single idea except to bring attention to a subculture that is struggling to keep its relevancy. Things start at an annual New York rare book fair, where expensive volumes are fawned over, but rarely bought. Along the way we meet some eccentric, but also some very normal human beings, many of them convinced that – despite their lack of funds or a clear future for their business – they wouldn't want to do anything else. It was corporate stores which put the indies out of business, the documentary reminds us, and only a few can survive based on their rich, regular customers, or because – through family association – they happen to own the real estate.
Most interesting is the film's revelation that for so many of these book collectors the thrill is – or was, at one time – in the chase, the idea of spending years, sometimes decades, searching for a specific book. The acquisition itself is never what counts, since afterwards the book is simply put on a shelf and never looked at again. The internet, it turns out, has killed the “hunt” mentality: you can search for a rare copy of any book and in minutes it's on the way, so what's the point? Now, though, it's all about the curation – devoted bibliophiles (many of them far younger than you'd expect) dedicating themselves to the preservation of books and manuscripts once thought to be worthless.
As with most documentaries that hone in on sub-cultures, this one lives or dies based on whether its subjects' passion rubs off on you. It's a comforting watch – not so unlike putting your feet up with a good book, in fact.
The Booksellers is now available on various streaming platforms.Where to watch online