There is an undeniable beauty to be found within a book.
Books are the keepers of history, they crackle with creativity and galvanize dreams. Books have survived hundreds of years, preserving the past, sharing stories, and perpetuating a plethora of cultures, beliefs, and ideas. A book can comfort, a book can inspire, a book can delight. Crucial to the enduring legacy of literature are rare booksellers: men and women who have devoted their lives to the collection and distribution of some of the rarest and most unique books in the world. These booksellers are scholars and enthusiasts, tasked with the significant responsibility of preserving precious history while simultaneously securing the future of the rare book world, and they are beautifully honored in THE BOOKSELLERS, D.W. Young’s documentary premiering at the New York Film Festival.
THE BOOKSELLERS is a loving tribute to the world of literature and shines a lovely light upon the heroes and heroines who exist outside of the books they strive so hard to preserve and share. Opening at the New York Book Fair, the film begins quietly, exuding a sense of calm as it introduces the rare book world. Though it may be soft in tone, it is powerful in content, not unlike the rare book world itself. It is a strong, enduring, and important part of the culture, and it is quickly made clear that this rare book world is not the be underestimated: rare booksellers fill their displays at the fair with precious and valuable pieces of history, like the first edition of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, available for sale at the price of $130,000 dollars.
The film continues to move with grace and conviction, revealing more and more about the rare book world and the people working within it. Sellers and collectors are profiled alike, as they discuss their roles in the rare book world and their relationships with the books themselves. The film is intimately personal, showing both rare booksellers and collectors in their home spaces and with their private collections. Books, book stores, book auctions, book fairs, book dust jackets – not a stone is left unturned in cultivating the rich history and culture of literature for audiences to absorb. In a way, the film itself feels like a book: a warm friend filled with a vast array of information and knowledge, teeming with nuggets of rare magic.
After dazzling with many examples of extraordinary antique books – beautiful books with jeweled bindings, books bound in human skin, made with human bone and teeth, Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook bought by Bill Gates for a record $28 million dollars – the film looks towards the future of the rare book world with the invention of the internet. While some sellers and collectors argue that the printed word will be extinct eventually at the hands of smartphones and e-readers, others argue the opposite, commenting on the inordinate amount of twenty-year-olds reading actual books on the subway.
In any case, the film itself cannot help but to celebrate books and stress the importance they hold not only in preserving the past, but also in nourishing the future. By weaving together brilliant individuals with such deep and unwavering connections to the world of literature, along with a variety of images and examples of that world coming to life – in media, at book fairs, in the streets of New York City, in family history, in personal collections – it is nearly impossible to not understand the gravitas of the book. In an endearing move, the end of the film shows a cozy sit down between some of the booksellers, talking about their vocation. Over wine and pastries, the professionals exchange warm and honest sentiments, proving there is one crucial ingredient essential in the work of a rare bookseller: passion.