Bookwars Directed by Jason Rosette
by Matt Zoller Seitz
In BookWars, a superb nonfiction film by first-time feature director Jason Rosette, books are more than sources of knowledge. They are merchandise that’s appraised, bought and sold. They’re also artifacts, sometimes clean and intact but more often damaged, whose condition at the point of sale says plenty about the conscientiousness of the seller. Most of all, they’re an addictive substance.
Rosette, a former street bookseller, makes the point that while his brethren tend to be more educated than the average Joe, and much more aggressive in extolling the virtues of reading, when you get down to it, they’re basically junkies chasing a rush. The specific type of rush varies from bookseller to bookseller: some of Rosette’s subjects get off on the idea of spreading self-empowering knowledge, or belief systems that terrify the establishment; others seem to get a charge out of interacting with customers, whose eccentric ranks include a surprisingly high number of repeat clients; still others sell books because they’ve been doing it for years and can’t imagine any other life. They’re dealers who are hooked on their own merchandise. "When (people) get hold of a good book, they get intoxicated, they get high," one bookseller tells Rosette. [Read More]
You’ve seen them plying their trade in front of NYU’s Bobst Library, at the foot of Washington Square Park. You’ve spent an idle five minutes in front of their rickety tables on lower Sixth Avenue, rifling through stacks of ancient Sports Illustrateds and Marie Claires. Perhaps you’ve wondered, however fleetingly, about their lives: Are they homeless? Desperate scavengers? Antisocial biblophiles? Manhattan’s street booksellers are a peculiar lot, and Jason Rosette–who, until quite recently, was hawking tomes right alongside them–has assembled a fascinating, often hilarious portrait of their stubbornly independent lifestyle, as well as their struggle to remain in business in the face of Mayor Giuliani’s quality-of-living crackdown [Read More]
A gritty, low-fi documentary about Manhattan’s street booksellers which abounds in fascinating detail. The director and narrator, Jason Rosette, shows how bookselling is the kissing cousin of another urban art form: drug dealing. Both require a knowledge of profitable corner locations, an experienced eye for for potential addicts, and a steady supply of mood-altering substances. In the case of books, you want to be holding works by Carlos Casteneda and Kurt Vonnegut, perennial best sellers on the street. It’s a hardscrabble existence: most street booksellers do not vend stolen books; they rely on church fairs, garbage-picking, and the state of New Jersey-“land of the two dollar book.” [Read More]
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