Humans like rare things. It's just in our nature. We are drawn to exclusivity, and put value in things that are hard to get. But not everyone is willing to spend their life's savings on rare objects. Director D.W. Young presents a fascinating documentary on one specific collecting niche: a behind-the-scenes glance at the rare book world in New York.
While the stereotypical image of the bookseller is a white-haired man with a tweed jacket and a pipe, the documentary introduces us to many people who break those stereotypes - the book-selling world is truly as colorful and wonderful as it gets, with each collector driven by a passion that usually has nothing to do with money. Many of these booksellers got into the business because it ran in the family, or because a part of their childhood revolved around independent bookstores -- "it's about the hunt," one bookseller says, describing how looking for these rare gems is a life-long addiction, combing through books in stores or even estate sales and being able to slowly learn what is valuable and what is not.
These booksellers not only have to know their stuff, but they have to be patient and downright obsessive in their search. An assortment of people are interviewed, including Susan Orlean, Fran Lebowitz, and Gay Talese. There is even a round table in which these book dealers sit and chat together - watching their eyes light up as they talk about their trade is a joy to watch.
The patronage of these booksellers breaks down into three categories: private collectors, dealers, and institutions. The collectors are the most avid audience - some collect books just for the sake of having a treasure trove that they can show off, boasting how much they spent (which oftentimes is upwards of $80,000) or how hard it was to find each piece. It is almost certainly less about actually reading the book and more about the experience of finding it. And often, book collecting is almost indistinguishable from any other sort of collecting, with rare finds like handwritten manuscripts, books that include artifacts such as the hair of a woolly mammoth - even books bound in human flesh. The film also dives into the decline of the independent bookstore, and how the book industry has been affected by shifts in technology, namely the Internet.
For those who love books, or old things, or collecting in general, this is truly a film that you will be able to sink your teeth into. THE BOOKSELLERS is now available on-demand at midtowncinema.com!
NOTE: Midtown Cinema is hosting a Zoom panel discussion on May 24th at 7pm with two Central PA booksellers, Alex Brubaker, of Midtown Scholar Bookstore (Harrisburg, PA), and Michelle Mioff-Haring, Owner of Cupboard Maker Books (Enola, PA). Register now to watch the discussion!