In the past month or so, one thing you may have done to cope is peruse your bookshelf and dust off those books you bought months ago that you either set aside or never finished. As The Booksellers (now playing in our Virtual Movie Palace) will tell you, this is an almost humanly instinctive response in distressing times, as literature is perhaps the earliest form of artistic entertainment that we still use today. Books have offered relief since the Gutenberg Bible was printed in 1455, and as our culture becomes increasingly inundated with television, movies and social media, and technology becomes more advanced, books never have and never will change – they’re simply always there for us. In his Variety review, Owen Gleiberman describes the film as “a documentary for anyone who can still look at a book and see a dream, a magic teleportation device, an object that contains the world.”
From director D.W. Young, The Booksellers is a documentary that honors literature and the people that still dedicate their lives to its distribution in independent bookstores. Simply put, the documentary is a celebration of tradition, as seen through the eyes of people that are thrilled by the hunt for rare and original printed material. Young takes audiences through the dusty archives and cramped shelves of book collectors that can passionately speak about each piece that they own. The thrill they experience in their hunt is palpable and contagious, and as you continue to hear them describe their profession in the films 99 minute runtime you will leave feeling very inspired.
Not only does The Booksellers offer dedication to the written word, but it provides a diverse collection of history lessons, such as an insight into Louisa May Alcott’s career as a pulp writer, to the conception of the term “hip-hop.” Moreover, it offers a glimpse into New York in the 1920s when 4th Ave in Manhattan was known as “Book Row” and contained close to 50 bookstores. Today, though the majority have closed, Argosy Book Store at E. 59th St. remains an exception. Founded in 1925 by Louis Cohen, Argosy Book Store is now run by his daughters and still resides on E. 59th St., as Cohen had the early foresight to purchase the 6-story building. Argosy Book Store remains one of survival, as the city continues to evolve around them.
Even when the film turns to the business’ unfortunate shortcomings, such as its practice of sexism for decades that kept female book collectors from succeeding, the documentary remains positive about the future. Though the business has become increasingly niche, Young offers commentary on the recent resurgence of new, hip independent bookstores that are beginning to spring up around the country. Literati in Ann Arbor, though not cited in the film, is a perfect example of one such bookstore.
The film even ends with a quote from Jorge Louis Borges, “The library will endure; it is the universe.” If you find comfort in this, you will certainly enjoy the film.