No-frills, behind-the-scenes look at New York City street
book vendors is informative, amusing and political.
AVATAR FILMS/Color/1.33/79 Mins. Featuring: Jason Rosette,
Peter Whitney, Rick Sherman, Marvin, Everett Shapiro,
Polish Joe, Al Mappo, Margueritte, Ron Harris. Credits:
Produced, directed, photographed and edited by Jason
Rosette. Co-producers: Michel Negroponte, James and John
Montoya. Associate producer: Alan Fulford. Music by Rich
Goldstein and Little Muddy.
BookWars, a low-budget documentary about downtown Manhattan
used-book sellers, sheds some light on a demimonde of sorts
at the edges of Greenwich Village, while striking a blow
for free speech.
Filmmaker Jason Rosette appears to have first-hand
knowledge about this subject, having served in the sidewalk
book trenches to pay off his college tuition. In BookWars,
we see him mingling with a diverse band of literary
eccentrics-on either side of the book tables-and
interacting daily with book junkies, crazies and cops.
BookWars unfolds against a seemingly amiable setting, that
of a lively, open-air bazaar where book covers, words and
pictures are the currency and perhaps the drug. It's a
setting that seems to captivate passersby from morning to
Rosette, something of a low-key book maven compared to his
associates, admits to being lured into the world of book
dealing almost without a second thought. As a guide of
sorts to BookWars' audience, he's both candid and
The filmmaker dispels some of the myths that accrue to the
used-book street scene, mainly the notion that most of the
vendors are drug dealers and thieves. Rosette's pals in the
book trade include Pete, a collage artist and toad-fancier,
and Al, the oldest vendor on the street, who specializes in
Without casting his fellow entrepreneurs in an overly
innocent light, Rosette's film makes a case for the book
vendors as decent guys-hardly flawless, but hard-working.
Everett is an outdoorsman. Rick is a magician who admires
Timothy Leary. The book vendors' interests seem no stranger
than those of any other microcosm. "I'll sell anything,"
one of them confesses, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull or
In spite of their quirks and idiosyncrasies, the vendors in
BookWars find a common goal when the New York Police
Department, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and nearby New York
University join forces for a "quality-of-life clean-up
campaign" aimed at harassing the booksellers with
nickel-and-dime infractions. Ultimately, the First
For a guy who cheerfully acknowledges that he once thought
George Eliot was a man, Rosette has fashioned a
book-friendly, appealing non-fiction film that is lively
and political. There is wry humor in BookWars, too, the
kind that surfaces when people are working in a public
space. New Jersey is routinely dismissed as "the land of
the ten-cent book," and a sobering notion surfaces that
"when you die, these guys [Rosette's co-workers] will get
your books." In a more melancholy vein, a bookseller
observes that the items most likely to be found between the
pages of a used volume are love letters and train tickets.