‘The Booksellers’ is a Superb Documentary Every Book Lover Must See
“There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.” — Maurice Sendak
It will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed me for any length of time that I have a soft spot in my otherwise hard heart for booksellers, and not just because I was one myself. I also love documentaries, as I have written here before multiple times. The 2019 documentary, The Booksellers, covers both of those loves superbly.
Before I discuss the film, I need to address those of you who groaned when you read the word “documentary.” I understand that especially those of a certain age immediately pictured a pack of hyenas descending upon a poor unsuspecting gazelle quietly grazing on the African savanna. This is not that. In fact, most documentaries are not that anymore, but that’s a story for another time.
The Booksellers is set in the world of antiquarian booksellers and collectors with the famous New York Antiquarian Book Fair as its centerpiece. From that center, it explores the world of rare book dealers, bookstores, and book collectors (the three go hand-in-hand); the profiles of the individual dealers are compelling enough that this could have easily been a multi-part series rather than a film with a running time of only one hour and 39 minutes.
Those profiles don’t just focus on current dealers, but also introduce us to some of the early giants of the trade like A. S. W. Rosenbach, a world-famous collector whom the French called the Napoleon of Books. Rosenbach and his brother were key in the development of both private and public libraries, and he was a formidable foe at auctions. In a 1928 auction, he paid $77,000 for the manuscript of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and in 1947 paid a then-record $151,000 for a copy of The Bay Psalm Book. As of 2019, the total value of his purchases is estimated at $75,000,000.
As interesting as the history is, it’s the interviews with the current booksellers that makes this film a must-see. Most of…