If you’re out shopping, there’s a tendency to go in, purchase what you want or need, and get out again. Not so the humble book shop.
More often than not they are a haven, for avid readers sure, but even for more casual passers-by, lured in by the cosy nature of the surroundings; the books displayed on tables, as well as arranged elegantly on shelves, and the comfy chairs you can quickly find yourself sinking into.
They were the go to place for books, naturally, until technology took over, allowing the likes of Amazon to deliver the latest titles not only onto your doormat, but also even your phone or tablet.
What has the phenomenal success of the likes of Amazon meant to the local book shop in your neighbourhood?
This documentary by A.B. Max, focuses on one such book shop, run by a truly dedicated bookseller.
Nestled on the corner of Housatonic Street, Lenox, Massachusetts, is The Bookstore. It’s been there for a number of years, and has been owned and run by Matthew Tannenbaum since 1976. As you can imagine it’s become quite an institution amongst the reading public of the town, the go to place for a huge array of books.
One of the biggest selling points however is Matthew himself; an amiable man, with an obvious passion for the books he sells, that his customers both enjoy, and occasionally endure.
But when a global pandemic reached his doorstep, and the footfall to his store significantly drops, it begins to look as if there’s far from a happy ending on the store’s horizon.
If Max’s intention was to use the plight of Matthew’s bookstore as a gauge for bookstores as a whole, then the director misses the mark by some distance.
It’s an intimate portrayal of a well-meaning owner, who has devoted the majority of his life to selling books, within a community that obviously appreciates his efforts.
Unfortunately for Max, his protagonist can come across as a little annoying. At the start he’s charming enough, but as the film goes on, it’s clear that Matthew is one of those who rather enjoys the sound of his own voice.
It’s a documentary that’s crying out for other contributors, and it would have been vastly improved if it featured a number of independent book sellers across the States. But unfortunately for Max, Matthew isn’t the goldmine of bookshop wisdom that he believes him to be, and his film suffers for that.
In fact the director gives him far too much free reign, and what’s clearly missing is direction; Max really needed to sit him down at times and just ask him some simple, straightforward questions, about his life, his background, what running the bookstore means to him and the community he serves etc. In fairness, many of these questions are answered, in a roundabout fashion, but it takes too long getting there, and get lost amidst far too many shots of the owner spouting quotes clearly feeling quite smug with himself.
It’s also somewhat unfortunate to also have an irritatingly twee soundtrack, that often serves as an unwanted distraction, which isn’t what you want in a book shop.
If nothing else, it serves a reminder of how important a book store can be, but by focusing on just one individual, the film sadly loses sight of the bigger picture book. Now that would have been worth thumbing through.