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Meet Max Joseph, Lover of Bookstores

Small, independent bookstores are growing in the U.S.! What better way to jump on the bandwagon than to enjoy the new short film, Bookstores, that chronicles Max Joseph -- an award-winning filmmaker and reluctant reader -- and his journey to solve how books fit into our modern content diet.

By Robin Hoklotubbe

Max Joseph's new film Bookstores takes us to some of the most beautiful and popular bookstores in the world. Interestingly, Joseph had to cut some of the bookstores out of the film as there were too many. Too many beautiful and popular bookstores—what a dilemma!

I had a chance to speak with Max Joseph (Catfish, We Are Your Friends) recently about his new film and what discoveries he made along the way.

Bookstores may not be the sexiest of titles, but this short film is a love story, in a way. Luscious images of bookstores decorated with stimulating cover art, which, to Joseph, is so tantalizing that it makes it difficult to decide which book to purchase, fill frames of the documentary throughout.

Joseph relays that feeling of indecision: For him and many others, “There is real anxiety on what to choose to read.” Buying a book or two in the end is not the problem, but finding time to read has been a challenge. Throughout the film, he meets up with professionals who advise him on how to read more (and faster), and why it is important to make the time to do it. In the end, one of the takeaways he learns is to read slowly and to reflect on what he is reading.

Why did Joseph pick this project? There were people early on who commissioned him to develop it, and once he began, he was hooked. He describes the project as a “fantasia-esque” ride through books and reading. He learned that the act of reading is so much more than just the story before you. Reading can get you to a special place, a “forced meditation.”

Along the way, he was particularly interested in how much there is out there for us to read and focus our attention. With a content-heavy diet of social media, news, streaming, and more, how can a person actually find the time to read? Joseph shares his findings in the film. However, he told me that he likes the “idea of book clubs, as they can hold you accountable.” I shared that I do too.

Among his favorite bookstores are Cook & Book in Brussels, which has nine different rooms where you can eat and drink, and each room is a world unto itself. Joseph takes his viewers on a wonderful journey to many other bookstores in his film, some of which are definitely bucket-list worthy.

In the end, Joseph concludes that “reading is not about quantity but quality. And when you read, you put these images in your head—like making a film.” Joseph instantly fell for the title of one of the bookstores he visited, Ler Devagar in Portugal, which translates to “Read Slowly.” Which he does now, every day.

Joseph’s short film Bookstores was released on World Bookstore Day, April 23.


Max Joseph is an award-winning filmmaker who has made over 80 short films, numerous commercials (for clients ranging from Amazon to Nike to Samsung), and the feature film We Are Your Friends. His non-fiction work has been featured at Sundance, Telluride, SXSW, TED, and the Cannes Creativity Festival. He has been behind countless iconic viral videos for Casey Neistat (Make It Count), Rainforest Alliance (Follow the Frog), Planned Parenthood, and DACA (What Makes Us American). Max has given TED Talks, written articles for Vulture, GQ, and, perhaps, most famously, spent 7 years co-hosting MTV’s Catfish, traveling around the country and exploring the deeper social and psychological issues that belie the “Catfishing” phenomenon.


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