The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop - Lewis Buzbee

In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Lewis Buzbee celebrates the unique experience of the bookstore-the smell and touch of books, the joy of getting lost in the deep canyons of shelves, and the silent community of readers. He shares his passion for books, which began with ordering through the Weekly Reader in grade school. Woven throughout is a fascinating historical account of the bookseller trade-from the great Alexandria library to Sylvia Beach's famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare & Co. Rich with anecdotes, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is the perfect choice for those who relish the enduring pleasures of spending an afternoon finding just the right book.

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Bibliophiles, gather! Lovers of books about books, this one is for you! Lewis Buzzbee writes a book-centric memoir detailing his lifelong adoration of the printed word and some of his best memories working many years as a bookseller. Along the way, he also shares book-related historical tidbits regarding famous writers and bookshops around the world. For instance, there is mention of how books in the Middle Ages were often made with covers made of large slabs of wood, sometimes covered in leather. Pre-printing press books were expensive to create, so they were intentionally made heavy to deter thieves! 

 

So, have your notepads ready as you read through this one, as you're likely to get some titles added to that ever-growing tbr of yours!

 

A great book will never go out of style -- books go with every outfit. 

 

Buzbee's love of books started at the age of 15, with what became regular visits to his local B. Dalton bookstore and many pre-Scholastic Book Fair days spent with the Scholastic Weekly Reader. This was a magazine full of puzzles, articles, and of course, order forms for books. Instead of the book carts coming to the school, students could order and have the books sent to their homes. To me, this sounded less exciting than my memories of book fair days at school, but it's what he had at the time, I guess. During this portion, Buzbee also touches upon the "real reader" discussion (ie. what makes a person considered "well-read") and his teenage embarrassment at his mother's love of Gothic romances and his father's preference for men's magazines full of adventure stories & travel articles. Buzbee himself describes finding a love for classics early on, notably the works of John Steinbeck, with all the descriptions of oak and manzanita forests. 

 

For those who are afflicted with book lust, those for whom reading us more than information or escape, the road to our passion is quite simple, paved merely by the presence of printed matter. It's a common story; fill in your own blanks: I was _____ years old when I happened upon a novel called ________, and within six months I had read every other book by the writer known as _________.

 

Love bookshop history? There's one great story in here regarding the famous Shakespeare & Company and how they came to publish James Joyce's doorstop of a novel, Ulysses. James Joyce estimated that roughly 1/3 of the book was written on typset proofs. And shop owner Sylvia Beach must have had the patience of a saint! She spent nearly a year just getting the manuscript right for the printing process, THEN Joyce insists that the covers had to be the EXACT colors of the Greek flag -- white font on blue paper, to suit the "Homeric nature of the novel". All this WHILE she was in the process of moving the shop's location! The shop -- in name only -- is still in operation today. Beach's store officially closed after WW2, but George Whitman (illegitimate grandson of poet Walt Whitman), with a collection of 1,000+ books, revived the location, originally calling it Le Mistral but later brought back the name Shakespeare & Co in honor of Beach. For those who love doing bookshop tours (crawls? lol) Buzbee includes a list of his personal favorite shops around the world (and explains why they're his favorites). 

 

While this is the journey of one specific booklover, as well as a bit of a history of bookshops and bookmaking, this book, at times, speaks as an ode to book SELLING more than anything... not surprisingly, really, what with the author being a retired bookseller! For anyone curious, he breaks down the math behind those "closeout books" sales we readers love. Turns out, the author gets ZERO royalties from remainder-marked books. Buzbee writes of the fun of being able to get just the right book to the right person at the perfect time in that person's life...sometimes through orchestrated opportunity, other times via pure serendipity. He also argues that there should be a mandatory two years of retail service duty assigned to everyone and I can't say that I disagree! As he says, "sales for sturdy shoes would skyrocket!" 

 

"The greatest benefit to my little plan would be in the creation of a truly kinder and gentler nation. Imagine that every American citizen had at one time worked in retail, and you might glimpse the possibility of a future in which all of us, participating in our national pastime, shopping, would have more patience. We would understand that items are sometimes out of stock and life does continue, that service without a smile is still service, that getting rid of your small change is not one of life's more laudable goals, nor is cashing out a speed trial. I'm going to let you in on a little secret about working retail. If you think we're grumpy, maybe even pissed off, and seem like we don't want to be there half the time -- you're right."

 

Oh, and the stories about shrink wrap pranks brought back memories for me! 

 

Either way, it makes for fun reading when he shares which books proved to have the most impact on him throughout the course of his life.  With the book's closing pages, Buzbee shares his stance on the whole topic of online vs brick & mortar bookshops / indy sellers vs superstores / ebooks vs print books.. and where he sees things going in the future. 

 

Altogether, this book is worthy of at least one flip-through from any and all book lovers because Buzbee covers -- even if just a bit -- nearly every aspect of book culture you could want information on. Break this one out on a lazy Sunday or a rainy day in and curl up for some bibliophile bonding time! 

 

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EXTRAS

 

* Interview clip with an elderly Sylvia Beach where she talks about her days of working to get James Joyce's work published