Jeff Bezos’ sinister, late-capitalist empire has long cast a shadow over the book industry, yet in a year when independent bookshops and trade fairs have been forced to shut, its shadow looms larger than ever. The Booksellers – an eclectic peek into the rare book world of New York – is a timely intervention into a critical moment, acting as a love letter to the intimate relationship between booksellers, collectors, and their cherished objects.

Comprised of interviews and documentary footage shot in cavernous book fairs, towering private libraries, and chaotic bookshops, The Booksellers’ narrative is sweeping, tracing the history of the rare book scene as it evolves to integrate within an increasingly digital world. Unsurprisingly for a film about one of society’s most fetishised objects, there are enough shots of impressive tomes and captivating ephemera to make even the most agnostic reader swoon. This emphasis on aesthetics, combined with more than one interview with a tweed-wearing, moustachioed book eccentric, works both in and against the film’s favour: it’s all very charming, but the cutesy shots of cats and envy-inducing bookshelves don’t add much new to the pre-existing perception of antiquarian book selling.

Where The Booksellers succeeds is in unveiling the challenges and possibilities of the contemporary bookselling world: in one segment, a young Black collector of vintage hip-hop magazines reveals how archives can amplify voices from the margins; in another, author Fran Lebowitz laments the shift in terminology from “book world” to “book market”.

By probing the tension between literature and capitalism and delving into the changing politics of the industry, The Booksellers counters the quirky romanticisation of a culture that it itself is susceptible to. It’s in the moments when nostalgia is switched for incisive critique that this bookish documentary tells a treasured story.



CAST: Parker Posey, Fran Lebowitz, Gay Talese


SYNOPSIS: An intimate behind-the-scenes look at the eclectic world of rare bookselling in New York City.