Every documentary has a built in audience based on its subject. I have always loved books. Sitting in the theater with me as I watched The Booksellers were many others, including, I would guess, some who, like the people shown in the movie, make their living buying and selling books. The movie profiles sellers, scouts, writers, archivists, and auctioneers. The action begins with the Antiquarian Book Fair which takes place in the New York Armory every March. Book scouts and dealers explain how their profession depends on those who still value the printed word as an object with a beautiful binding. In some cases, a book jacket can exponentially increase the value of a book. Sadly, the internet has rendered many scouts jobless. The search engine has replaced the human on the hunt.
But just as pessimists seem convinced that their way of life has ended, young optimists crop up, opening shops like Honey and Wax in Brooklyn. Fran Lebowitz declares that the only people she sees reading books on the subway are in their twenties. Others proclaim the importance of diversity in the book trade and show collections of hip hop magazines and artifacts. Kevin Young, director of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, demonstrates the value of books and artifacts as a kind of discovery.
Louis Cohen founded Argosy Books, which continues with his three daughters; Ben Bass’ Strand Bookstore lives on under the direction of his granddaughter Nancy. These two examples of family run book stores are not uncommon.
Rebecca Romney, a frequent guest on Pawn Stars, continues the tradition with her business, Type Punch Matrix. There is nothing old school about what she does. Feminists are taking the business on as well, and Caroline Schimmel has donated her collection of books and artifacts about American women in the wilderness to University of Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, the movie does not identify who is speaking on screen. I recognized Gay Talese as he appeared briefly at the beginning of the movie, but it would have been very courteous to us older folk, who probably comprise the main audience, if the filmmakers had dispensed with the new way of identifying everyone by first name only, and actually let us know who William Reese was before we saw the movie’s dedication to him (in a flash!) at the very end of the picture. Thankfully, there is a website for the movie where you can find out the first and last names of all those featured, and locate their businesses and specialties.