Those with a true enthusiasm for collecting books – as objects to be coveted, rather than simply read and put aside – are both the subject and the target audience of DW Young’s documentary ‘The Booksellers’. It’s a warm, embracing if somewhat hermetically sealed portrait of a pursuit that has persisted even as the printed word in general has fallen from its past popularity in the digital age.
‘The Internet ruined the hunt,’ says one of the speakers (who are not always identified on screen), and you don’t have to specifically be a book lover to relate. Yes, it’s wonderfully convenient to have anything you want easily searchable and bought with the click of a mouse or touchpad, but true collectors know the special thrill of going into a store, poring through the offerings and finding an unexpected treasure.
That’s the excitement ‘The Booksellers’ celebrates, along with the passion of those who make that experience possible. Young allows numerous rare book dealers and archivists to communicate their devotion to preserving and sharing everything from classic literature to hip-hop writing not available on-line. They also reveal the field’s wide range of specialisations – we learn of ‘The Mao and Mo Show,’ an exhibition combining Mao Tse-Tung and Maurice Sendak – and extol the varied physical forms these works can take, from the beautiful (special bejeweled bindings) to the bizarre (books bound in human skin).
Young’s subjects are, naturally, all well-spoken, some are eccentric and funny, and their zeal is palpable. As a book collector myself, I could fully relate, yet while watching ‘The Booksellers’, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it’s geared more toward the hardcore devotees it covers rather than curious outsiders. ‘The world is divided between people who collect things and people who don’t know what the hell these people are doing,’ says one interviewee, and the doc will fully engross the former without necessarily converting the latter.
Available on June 29 on iTunes, Sky Store, Amazon, Google Play and other streaming sites.