Anyone that has studied or researched the finer points of books, particularly rare books, knows that it is a more complicated and layered world than most would imagine.
How do you identify a first edition? What makes a book rare? What is an “antiquarian” book? What makes a book valuable? And who are these people that dedicate their lives to answering such questions?
The Booksellers, a documentary by D.W. Young with narration by executive producer Parker Posey, pulls back the curtain for a look into the whimsical and quirky world of rare books.
The film digs into the history of the trade and the larger art of collecting, whether it is books or hip-hop artifacts, and the mentality that it takes. As one person puts it, “Collecting is about the hunt. It’s not about the object. You look for twenty years and then you find it! You have your orgasm, and you put it on the shelf and never look at it again.” While celebrating the past, it also focuses on the present with an eye on the future.
The internet, with sites like Abebooks, is referred to as a double-edged sword and the older generation expresses great pessimism about the rise of Kindle (“People don’t appreciate the workmanship that goes into having a book bound,” one laments) but the younger set are more optimistic. In reality, physical books continue to outsell e-books, because they are not only beautiful works of art that are, in the words of Stephen King, “a uniquely portable magic,” but also because you can write in the margins and argue with the author.
Moreover, they never need a software update or succumb to malware or malfunction because of some dirt or water. “Try to open a file on your computer from seven years ago, it’s a hit-or-miss proposition. You can, of course, open any book from 500 years ago and think about and read what’s there,” is another great quote from the film.
On its surface, a film like this may not seem all that interesting, but it’s the people that make it compelling. It is really about the unique characters that populate the highest levels of the book world, from the eccentric traders and merchants to famous bibliophiles. None of the interviewees and talking heads have their names shown – this is a documentary for people who already know Fran Lebowitz, Gay Talese, Rebecca Romney, Kevin Young, and Jay Walker, owner of the greatest private library in the world.
It garnered a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes (who were the 10%?) but was released directly to VOD due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a silver lining for all of us.
If you’re interested in books or collecting or even just weird, smart people, crack open The Booksellers.
Christopher Pierznik is a nine-time worst-selling author. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.