If you have even the slightest appreciation of books (or collecting in general), you will find D.W. Young’s documentary, The Booksellers, an absolute joy. Full of fascinating, often wonderfully eccentric characters, the film explores the world of antiquarian booksellers and asks questions about the importance and value of the books that they sell.
We are introduced to booksellers such as Dave Bergman, Adina Cohen, Naomi Hample, Judith Lowry and Rebecca Romney and auctioneers such as Stephen Massey. In a series of warm, witty (hello Fran Lebowitz) and charming interviews, each expert reveals remarkable insights into their profession and the rare book industry.
Meanwhile, Young examines the history of book selling - charting its slow progression from a largely all boys club to something a little more diverse - and the rise and fall of book shops. We are taken behind the scenes at book fairs and auctions and given a sneaky peak at some truly magical bookshelves.
Young’s booksellers also shed light on the thrill of finding a truly special book and on the psychology of book ownership. They discuss what books add to society, why some are considered ‘rare’ and how they become luxury, desirable objects.
As a lover of books, I enjoyed every minute of The Booksellers. I loved the documentary’s gentle pace, its characters, their stories and, of course, the books themselves.
We are shown the most expensive book ever sold ( Da Vinci’s The Codex Leicester), handwritten Borges manuscripts, books bound in human flesh (yep, human flesh), early hip-hop documents and accounts of polar expeditions published with samples of real wooly mammoth fur.
It made me want to go out and start my own collection (perhaps not anything with fur or human flesh though).
However, book buying and selling is far from an easy business - particularly in the age of the internet. The Booksellers examines the impact of technology and the rise of the e-reader. What might we lose as a result of these developments - in the books that are published and, just as importantly, in computer editing? Will fascinating and revealing notes handwritten by authors disappear?
Some book sellers fear that books are doomed. However, others - such as Romney - encourage optimism. While many of us read via screens, there is also a steadfast demand for actual, physical books… with pages and beautiful (check out those jewelled bindings!) book jackets.
Technology cannot yet replicate the joy of book ownership, of book art or the wonder of looking at a shelf full of new or beloved stories. The death of books has, perhaps, been greatly exaggerated and The Booksellers is proof of why their magic endures.