Rare book dealers have a certain image in pop culture. They are generally a bit eccentric, standoffish, erudite, and curmudgeonly. Librarians have a somewhat similar image, but generally are more aimed at facilitating the wide dissemination of knowledge. The book dealer is much more personal. They may only share their best material with a special few clients. Because their books will change hands, permanently, it lends itself to exchanging much more hidden knowledge. The librarian character may give you background… the book dealer gives you the key that unlocks the grand conspiracy that remakes the world before your eyes.
In fiction or film, the book dealer is often a treasure trove of obscure information and may even drive the plot. Uncovering some great conspiracy involves pouring through obscure tomes they have gathered over a lifetime… or more if they inherited the shop from someone else. Somewhere in those dusty stacks lurks the answer to the world’s great mysteries…
Writers and filmmakers love secret knowledge… and love revealing it even more. The book dealer is both treasure hunter and oracle. The archaeologist digs up mysteries from the earth and the hacker seemingly pulls them from thin air. The book dealer serves much the same function, but for written materials. His treasure is knowledge.
Treasure hunts always hold a certain appeal with people. We love a great story of a priceless treasure hidden in plain sight… it just takes the right person to see its worth.
Reality TV is chock full of exactly that sort of thing. Antiques, art, vehicles, collectibles, you name it. Books and documents also turn up on these shows but usually require a specialist to explain their significance and importance.
It is only a matter of time before someone decides to make a reality show about a rare bookstore. It plays right into the hottest television trends right now. All they need is a properly eccentric star and old books will be the hottest thing on TV. The rise of ebooks makes this even more likely. You can’t find a hidden masterpiece in a Kindle. What’s lurking on your shelf right now? Did your grandmother leave you a document that unravels a great historical mystery? Is that funny looking book that’s propping up the wobbly table in the hall actually a lost masterpiece worth millions? Will the person coming in the door right now be the one that brings in that amazing find?
All these shows fuel the idea there could be a treasure right around the corner. They are wish fulfillment stories at their core. But not everyone has a junkyard to look through, or collections of furniture, or old pots, or old storage areas filled with endless surprises. It’s a rare house that is totally without books. ANY house could be The One. Any thrift store display could hold a treasure. Any library sale could have that amazing book. Books are everywhere. And every book dealer has tales of the amazing things they’ve found. That the media has been increasingly been focusing on how books are “dying” would give it a sense of urgency, that those treasures might vanish.
Would a reality show about rare books signal the end of civilization or just fuel people’s appetites books? It’s almost inevitable at this point as there’s already a reality show about a comic store. Rare manuscripts can’t be far behind…