A labor of love that took many years to put together, this film examines the plight of New York City street book vendors, especially under Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s Quality of Life Program, designed to “clean up the streets.” Rosette was a neighborhood street book vendor before he began working with a camera. The film starts out as a documentary about the cast of characters who sell books from curbside tables. Some are decidedly offbeat, some are streetwise business tycoons, and some are street philosophers with a love for literature and scholarly works.
The vendors sell low-priced, secondhand editions, legally acquired through moving sales, estate sales, Friends of the Library sales, and even other street vendors who are leaving the trade. The film stresses this, since the accusation that street literati are fencing stolen goods has been laid on the table as a rationale for shutting them down, along with their failure to collect sales tax. The vendors point out that they provide cheap, high-quality reading material to the masses, especially the poor.
The video is produced after the manner of cinema verite but with an artist’s touch. What results is a film that is reflective, artistic without being contrived, and, most of all, interesting from first frame to last. And why should someone sitting in the Midwest care about an urban documentary? Perhaps because BookWars is a compelling, well-made film that raises larger issues about reading and about what is and is not kept in print and on shelves in more traditional distribution channels such as libraries and bookstores.
The film asks questions about who controls the distribution of published materials and who controls the cultural life of the streets. This should interest all librarians, as well as anyone concerned about urban life, books, and the distribution of ideas contained in the pages of those books. The story has implications far beyond what occurs on the Lower East Side of New York City.
Recommended for medium to larger public and all academic libraries.
— Nancy Paul, Brandon P.L., WI