My friend Kevin recommended the documentary The Booksellers, which introduces people to to quirky world of selling rare books. Taking place in New York City, the film interviews booksellers, young and mainly old some of whom have been in the family business for generations. Viewers learn about rare books which are bought for their characteristics as an object rather than as something to read.
You’ll see the booksellers in their habitats whether it’s a tiny apartment filled from floor to ceiling with old books or a warehouse with 300,000 books. They all aren’t cut from the same cloth. Some are very quirky and probably don’t own anything with tweed, other’s may fit the stereotype better.
The subjects interviewed love their work, even though it’s at a precarious stage. As one man said, they’re part gold digger, part salesman. That pithy quote actually makes it sound easier than I think it is. They have to find that rare gem and then the right buyer, whether it’s a library, museum or collector.
Of course they muse over the future of book collecting. Fran Lebowitz was the most recognizable person in the film and offers witty, pertinent insights. I found it interesting that she’s observed that most of the people she sees reading books on the subway are inter 20s. She sees 40 year olds reading with a Kindle. Hmm.
I do think since most children will continue to learn to read with tangible books that books will stick around. Some of the booksellers also assert that as something becomes more rare, it become more worth collecting. If you sell rare books, you aren’t looking for lots of customers, you’re looking for people with passion — and funds.
Collectors were also featured. The one who got the most screen time was a woman who collects books that focus on female subjects or characters. She hit upon this theme probably 40 years ago when she noticed no special consideration was given to women and girls in the book collecting world. It’s not a surprise as the field is about 85% male. She’s built a sizable collection that fills rooms and includes objects like Annie Oakley’s riding gloves to jazz up the space.
The Booksellers reminded me of the rare book class I took a few years ago. tt’s a pleasant, charming way to spend a winter’s night. I saw it on Kanopy, a streaming service free from my library, but Kevin found it on Netflix.