The Booksellers Documentary: An Essential Film for Booklovers

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Note this post includes an affiliate link.

We’ve been waiting for a film like The Booksellers documentary for a long time so our year was made when we discovered that this glimpse into the world of rare book dealing was available to watch online.

Directed by D.W. Young and narrated by Parker Posey, the film premiered in US cinemas last year and has now gone on general release across the rest of the globe.

What is The Booksellers documentary about?

It would be easy to say that The Booksellers focuses on the antiquarian book world in New York, but that would be an over-simplification. Watching the documentary is similar to wandering the corridors of an old and rambling bookshop and finding treasures along the way. The movie examines the place of the printed word in society, the history of book dealing, diversity in the book industry, auctioneering…the list goes on. It’s one of those films that can be replayed many times over.

“There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.” – Maurice Sendak

The Booksellers Official Synopsis

Antiquarian booksellers are part scholar, part detective and part businessperson, and their personalities and knowledge are as broad as the material they handle. They also play an underappreciated yet essential role in preserving history. THE BOOKSELLERS takes viewers inside their small but fascinating world, populated by an assortment of obsessives, intellects, eccentrics and dreamers.

So who’s in The Booksellers?

The movie is packed with a cast of eccentric and fascinating characters. Most of these I didn’t recognise (apart from the awesome Fran Lebowitz), but I’m guessing that New Yorkers may know some of the more famous names such as Adina Cohen, Naomi Hample and Judith Lowry, the three sisters who own Argosy Books. Also, Rebecca Romney of Pawn Stars plus authors Gay Talese and Susan Orlean.

But you know what, it doesn’t matter than these aren’t household names. Yes the film includes stereotypes (several male book dealers admit that they fit neatly into the ‘tweed-wearing’ cliche) yet these are challenged throughout. Heather O’Donnell of Honey & Wax Book Collecting and Rebecca Romney take particular delight in shooting their older male counterparts’ pessimism about the used book trade out of the water (the guys obviously haven’t heard of Bookstagram). The energy from the new, more diverse players is palpable. It’s as if we’re seeing a seismic shift in real-time.

This goes for collectors too. My favourite collector in The Booksellers is Syreeta Gates, a hip-hop archivist and collector and documentary filmmaker. Her approach to collecting pre-internet publications that chart the rise of hip-hop is fresh and accessible. These new angles are crucial to the survival of the rare book trade and it was amazing to see that Honey & Wax offer a rare book collecting prize to US women under 30.

What type of books are featured in The Booksellers?

The Booksellers is about used and antiquarian books rather than new publications so we see glimpses of rare, beautiful and sometimes horrific editions throughout the film. These include Da Vinci’s The Codex Leicester; Borges manuscripts; books bound in human flesh and vast tomes containing real mammoth fur.

We also get to look inside private libraries and book warehouses. Some of these are jaw-droppingly exquisite especially the Walker Library of The History of Human Imagination, which is full of jewelled covers.

Readers will enjoy the bookish quotes that pepper the film too. They really add to the narrative.

Are there any downsides to The Booksellers documentary at all?

As far as we’re concerned, in our biased bookish way, The Booksellers is as near to perfect as a documentary can be although some of the reviews have been mixed. There’s no doubt that The Booksellers is eclectic, seemingly non-linear and so packed with information that you want to stuff it with bookmarks, but let’s face it, bibliophiles are pros at absorbing this stuff. If you’re hoping for something dry and academic, this isn’t it.

If I had one request it would’ve been to show the names of the people featured in the film so that I could have discovered more about their businesses (this is addressed on the official website though).

Where can I watch The Booksellers documentary?

Note that the starred listing is an affiliate link (which means that if you make a purchase via this we receive a small commission at no cost to yourself)

You can get hold of it right now if you like! We downloaded our rental copy from Google Play but you can also rent or buy it from:

Vimeo

Amazon Prime Video *

Microsoft

iTunes

It will be available on YouTube soon too.

If you’re still unsure, here’s The Booksellers trailer

What’s the best resource for The Booksellers Documentary?

The official website for the documentary has been brilliantly curated and has links to the various bookshops, dealers and book collectors featured in the movie. As I mentioned earlier, I would’ve liked to have matched more names to faces in the documentary but this gives the viewer an opportunity to find out more about the speakers. It’s also a source for the latest news about The Booksellers.

  • Running time: 1 hr 39 mins
  • Director: D.W. Young
  • Executive Producer: Parker Posey

If you enjoyed this, you might also like these other other posts:

Mortal Engines Film Review – How Does It Compare to the Book

A Guide to Beautiful Bookshops in the Peak District

A Guide to Sedburgh – Britain’s Official Book Town

4 Comments

  1. July 9, 2020 / 8:43 pm

    This sounds really interesting. I will give this a wee watch. Thanks for sharing xx

    • thebookfamilyrogerson
      Author
      July 11, 2020 / 7:47 pm

      It’s one of those films that’s perfect for the weekend but be warned that it makes you want to buy more books! xx

  2. July 11, 2020 / 3:52 pm

    It’s always my dream to visit bookshops like these. Too bad, the bookstores near me does not have the cozy, antique-y ambiance this bookshop has!

    • thebookfamilyrogerson
      Author
      July 14, 2020 / 5:15 pm

      That’s a shame. We have to hang onto these old bookshops!

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