The Quarantine Stream: 'The Booksellers' Explores the Rare Book Business in New York City

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: The Booksellers

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime Video

The Pitch: Director/producer/editor D.W. Young takes his camera into the world of antiquarian and rare book dealers in New York City, textually acknowledging that while the act of reading is becoming less popular, there is still a community out there that holds the torch for the ineffable magic contained between the front and back cover of a book.

Why It’s Essential Viewing: “Essential” is probably too strong of a descriptor for this movie, but if you love reading, this documentary will give you a sense of where the industry stands while also providing plenty of shots of gorgeous libraries and a bird’s eye view of the annual New York International Antiquarian Book Fair.

I stumbled across this documentary on Amazon Prime Video last night, and since my wife and I have not been inside a book store since COVID hit, we figured this might scratch that itch for us. Aesthetically, it did: as you can see in the trailer, there are plenty of shots of musty bookstores, beautiful collections, and loving close-ups of classic novels.

The biggest downside of this doc, though, was that it raised a lot of interesting ideas but rarely followed through on them in a satisfying way. Take two moments in the trailer as example: when the prospective bookstore owners talk about how their soon-to-open shop will engage with the neighborhood in a way that larger bookstores never did, and when the young female bookseller talks about how older colleagues express a doom-and-gloom outlook about the future of the industry but she counters by excitedly saying she has tons of ideas. The Booksellers doesn’t follow through on either of those moments – we never see or learn exactly how that shop will engage with its community, and we never get to hear any of the ideas that the woman seemed so excited about. The film also finally gets around to addressing the idea of opening up this historically white and male-dominated community to more diverse audiences and sellers, but while some lip service is paid to that topic, I didn’t think it offered enough concrete steps about how anyone was actually going to achieve that goal.

Still, the film has its moments (I appreciated the history of “Book Row” and a digression about the value of book jackets), and there are enough #bookporn shots to make it worth a watch for devoted bibliophiles. If absolutely nothing else, it should make you want to set aside some time to read a really good book.

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