You’d expect a documentary about New York City booksellers to be about chasing down a…I dunno say a first edition Charles Dickens or perhaps a Hoop Dreams style doc about wanting to become a rare book dealer. It’s neither. Instead what director D.W. Young offers is a sci-fi tangent via Henry Wessells whose book is A Conversation Larger Than the Universe: Readings in Science Fiction and the Fantastic (whew!) as well as a motivated search for early hip hop documents and magazines.
That’s the value of being in New York City. Just like the city The Booksellers “takes viewers inside their small but fascinating world, populated by an assortment of obsessives, intellects, eccentrics and dreamers.” “Obsessives, intellects, eccentrics and dreamers” that’s New York City.
So much so that in documentary Fran Lebowitz shares about the time she lent David Bowie a book. Now that…that is Modern Love between an Intellectual and a Dreamer.
Among the compelling categories of distinct humans in this world, I found the specialist and generalist divisions fascinating. That you could build a whole life and a career with an unwavering dedication to one topic. There was the collector who was collecting overlooked women’s contributions while another focused on Mao Tse-tung. It’s a bold choice to know somebody else feels this way. Or find what you find is valuable.
What I find valuable are readers. We write a lot and focus a lot on the disappearance of the indie bookstore and blame Barnes and Noble and curse the Amazon affect all these standard narratives yet this documentary touches upon the fact that readers those wonderful people willing to dig through the stacks are fading. It’s almost like many individuals have lost their ability to curate reading and their pop culture. Is that accurate?
I find a number of people―some considered music fans―open Spotify and listen to Rihanna or Beyonce because it’s simple and everybody knows who they are and what that’s about and they are done. They don’t have to shift through the stacks to discover a really cool indie band or something that’s “off the grid.” They can be still with it and still be socially accepted. (When did that become goals?) But…where is the fun in that? Some of the best pop culture experiences I’ve had are analog: digging through the stacks like a detective in an 80s tv show searching for clues.
In the end? You must watch The Booksellers if only to behold the literary splendour of Jay Walker’s Library of the Human Imagination in Ridgefield, Connecticut. What the what?
Sammy Younan is the affable host of My Summer Lair: think NPR’s Fresh Air meets Kevin Smith: interviews & impressions on Pop Culture.