There’s something about the smell of a used bookstore that just makes me happy. That smell was missing from The Booksellers, but watching this documentary about antiquarian book stores in New York City and book collectors was an enjoyable experience in many other ways.
Director D. W. Young takes us into this world of books and book collecting through introducing us to various dealers and collectors. Some are very businesslike, others are, let us say, somewhat eccentric. All have a great love for books. The film moves smoothly among various aspects of books and the book trade. It reminds us of the value that we often find in books. We may think it is the story that we love, but often just a book in itself will have a special place in our hearts. One of the people in the film says that no one buys a first edition of Moby Dick because they want to read about whales.
My wife and I watched this via Virtual Cinema, since the theatrical release was cut short by the Corona lockdown. It turns out that might have been a good thing. It allowed us to stop and write down things for later exploration online. I also thought while we were watching that if we were seeing this in a theater, it would likely have been the art house we go to in Pasadena which is next door to a wonderful bookstore and we’d have had to go in after watching and left with empty wallets.
While books and collecting are the subject of the film, the underlying theme is value—what makes something important to us? Whether it is a bookdealer finding a great set of books at an estate sale, or a book being auctioned off for millions of dollars, or just the beauty of the binding, books are something that have great value. The people we see are not investors. They aren’t looking to make a killing when the price rockets up. Some never have any thought of selling what they have. They just feel a connection to the books they buy, sell, or collect.
I think this translates into other parts of life as well. For these booksellers and these collectors, there is something intrinsic to books that touches their lives. But we might want to consider what in our lives has such value that we would dedicate ourselves to with such relish.
Perhaps that smell I enjoy in used bookstores isn’t a combination of mold, leather, and paper. Maybe it’s the knowledge that within all these books are the words and thoughts that have enlightened minds and hearts. Even though the movie doesn’t deliver that smell, it does bring us that sense of wonder.
The Booksellers is currently available for rent through Virtual Cinema and will be available on VOD everywhere in June.