BookWars (3 stars)

Reviewed by Stephen Miller

No, this isn’t a futuristic tale about feuding intergalactic libraries, though some of its bookish characters exhibit distinctly otherworldly behavior. Instead, it’s filmmaker and former street bookseller Jason Rosette’s chronicle of lives on the other side of the cluttered book table; and from Rosette’s watchful eye to his folksy, Kerouac-esque narration, it’s a unique experience. Hawking their wares in New York’s Greenwich Village and on the Lower East Side, Rosette and his fellow enterprising bibliophiles are as dog-eared and diverse as the titles they’re pushing — lusty, poetic, funny, scholarly, philosophical and decidedly offbeat.

Pretty much every big-city pedestrian has wondered, at least in passing, how these marginal booksellers operate, and Rosette lets us in on a variety of tricks of the trade, including which titles sell best and which don’t; how encasing books in plastic jacks up the price; where sellers find their books and where they stash them; how to size up a prospective buyer; and why cardboard banana crates are tops for schlepping books and storing them under the tables.

Some sellers are ex-addicts, others are ex-stockbrokers: They’ve chosen this line of work not only because they’re hard-core book mavens, but because they can make some fast cash honestly, independently and legally — or so they think. Rosette’s film takes on a seriously Orwellian cast when the sellers mobilize to wage a civil war of words against the Big Brotherly NYC bureaucrats and academics trying to sweep them off the street. Books = crooks… please. Who could help but root for the feisty bookies in the us-against-them conflict?

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