«The world is divided between people who collect things, and people who don’t know what the hell these people are doing,» is said in The Booksellers, a documentary directed by D.W.Young, whose affinity clearly lies with the former. He seeks out the staunchest remaining guardians of the printed word, who convey their passion for books so convincingly one can nearly smell the bound paper. The documentary explores what might become of the book business now that, after a 550-year run, the internet is occasioning a decline in the cultural centrality of printed objects, and antiquarian booksellers are endeavoring to reinvent their industry. With such a celebration of literary culture, it’s only natural choice quotes from heavyweights of poetic phrasing are plentiful. «The library will endure, it is the universe,» is one famed line we hear, from Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. But in these times more than ever, with public space on hold due to the coronavirus and the virtual screen dominating all forms of cultural access, physical books seem like artefacts of a world almost lost.
Much of the film is focused on New York, the heart of American literary culture. We’re first thrown amongst the fray of the city’s book fair, a mecca for those wanting to invest in rare finds exhibited by dealers. But the way we talk about what’s rare has changed in the modern market. The hunt has been removed, now that one can simply type into a search engine what one is after to trawl a concentrated mass of listings, from one’s couch. Supply and demand may have been democratised, but the murky, chance aspect that underpins the thrill of digging around has all but dissipated. And for dealers, unless one has the best, cheapest, or only copy, they have little to base a livelihood on (while the position of the few at the very top of the trade has only been further validated). This more centralised landscape has driven ephemera, manuscripts, and other more leftfield printed material to greater popularity among collectors.
Books, with all the emotion that attaches to them as the receptacles of memory and experience, have always had an almost talismanic quality in …
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