There is a wonderful documentary making the rounds called THE BOOKSELLERS.
It’s about exactly what the title suggests: people who love and sell books, mostly antiquarian ones.
But they would never have gotten into the business if they hadn’t first of all fallen in love with books.
The documentary interviews booksellers from New York, mostly those who have been in the business from fifty years ago or more. Many inherited their book stores, while others fell into becoming booksellers because of their addiction to books.
For a book nerd like myself, I found it thrilling to watch the booksellers talk about their pasts and the intrepid hunt for books they owned and sold.
How amazing and actually a bit dizzying to see walls and walls of books waiting patiently for a buyer to take home with them! They probably will be orphaned for life.
I remember so many independent book stores in the cities I visited throughout my life. Because I grew up in Chicago —well before the chain bookstores were in operation and barracudaed their way into devouring and putting these stores out of business, I had access to a variety of book stores.
My favorites were the used book stores where I lingered without pushy salespeople, while listening to the classical or jazz music piping through the stereo speakers ubiquitously sitting on the counter-top.
Sometimes the smell of bean-crushed coffee wafted from a back room meant for the employees. Or the smell of Indian incense dimming the already dimmed light fixtures circulated everywhere including the book covers which still held that scent well after one bought the book and brought it home.
Growing up in that major cultural city, I assumed that every American town had at least one wonderful book store.
Of course that was an illusion because even now the chain book stores are faring badly or have themselves been put out of business by online marketing.
This was the lament I heard by the booksellers in the documentary.
It was sad to hear them admit that their business, their obsession, their Holy Grails of books were no longer viable or desired by an appreciative public.
One bookseller mentioned that books, even antique ones, were not valued as highly as visual art.
A first publication of a Charles Dickens novel will probably never fetch as high an auction price as say a pop art drawing by Andy Warhol.
What does that say about us as a society?
I like Warhol enough, but out of the two, I would rather have the first edition of a Dickens book if I was able to even contemplate or afford attending an auction of that sort.
Recently, several of my friends have mentioned that in their older ages, they are discarding their personal libraries—books they had lovingly purchased and collected since they were in high school.
The reasons: too cumbersome and dusty to keep, many are downsizing their homes, the books have deteriorated, and the most important reason—no one reads them anymore.
If anyone still reads, it’s probably online via e-books.
I understand this and have even joined in the purging of my own many, many books.
I also read many e-books since they are so inexpensive and far easier to carry around when traveling.
But I miss the physical comforts of a book with pages I can dog-ear and mark up with a real pen and hold in my hands like a lost child cuddling a stuffed animal.
Space and time are the culprits. And yet, with each wormy, faded book I had to throw into the recycling bin, I took a moment to recall with great vividness, which book store I found it in and what was my life like when I bought it.
Every book was a photographic link to the past, every author an unwitting teacher who helped to develop my writing skills.
These little deaths were emotional tugs. It was practical, but painful to do.
There aren’t many book stores anymore in the world except perhaps in bigger cities and towns and that is a pity.
But in THE BOOKSELLERS, there are younger booksellers featured who are optimistic that book stores will continue to proliferate beyond online sales.
I hope so.
I still yearn for the days when I can go to one, browse through shelves of fiction especially, then sit in a lumpy armchair (another feature of the best book stores), and become acquainted with the books I might buy to read, and savor, and learn from.
As of this writing, THE BOOKSELLERS has been online streaming via various theaters. Check your area to see where and how it’s playing. Here is the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymcRRt3Ix04
If you are discarding your books, here are some places to donate yours: https://www.moneycrashers.com/where-donate-used-books/
And certainly consider approaching a local used book seller in your area as well. Maybe buy a few for old times’ sake?
“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”—Joseph Brodsky, Russian and American Poet and Essayist
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