September 25, 2006
“The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop” by Lewis Buzbee
This charmingly honest memoir is a garden of personal joy and celebration where a book geek’s sensibilities and appreciation for the history of books and bookstores blossom in full color. Whether he’s describing acquaintances’ formative reading lists or historical watersheds in printing from Gutenberg to electronic print on demand, Busbee’s passion is warm and infectious.
Buzbee begins his account surveying the interior landscape of book lust and the almost symbiotic relationship between bookstores and buyers. He meanders through his early years as a store clerk at Upstart Crow and Printer’s Inc., two northern California bookstores, before delving into the histories of book making and book distribution. His account of the evolution of bookstores is fascinating, and he ties in historical relationships between various social institutions and the book trade, such as the medieval appearance of the university in Europe, Arabic culture and book copyists. He’s also up to tackling issues such as censorship, reading surveillance coupled to sections of the Patriot Act, and the pros and cons of the proliferation of online bookstores.
Dispersed throughout are engaging anecdotes and winsome facts: For example, Buzbee reminds us that from the 15th to the 18th centuries the normal stacking of books changed from vertical to horizontal. The third series of numbers in an ISBN designates a publisher’s specific listed title. Traveling booksellers sold 90% percent of books in the
U.S. in the 19th century. And the first printed copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses appeared on Joyce’s fortieth birthday, as promised, with paper wrappers the color of the Greek flag.
Buzbee paints delightful portraits of bookstores, celebrated and those less so. The storied Shakespeare and Co. in Paris under the guidance of Sylvia Beach, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s renown City Lights Bookstore, and Librarie 1789, a Parisian shop specializing in experimental, contemporary writers all come alive with Buzbee’s brush. He also highlights such stores as Grolier Poetry Book Ship, the oldest all-poetry bookshop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a combination used bookstore and tattoo parlor in Garberville, California. Absent, however, are a host of college town bookstores between the coasts that could rightly have made the list, landmark bookshops such as Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa or Shaman Drum Bookstore in Ann Arbor.
Reading shuttles us to appointed worlds of our own choosing, enticing worlds seemingly within our grasp. Buzbee rightly adduces that our initial connection to books and reading is visceral. Books allow us to experience our interior and outer worlds more deeply. And bookstores allow us, more than any other place perhaps, a space “to be alone among others.” They satisfy not only the singular obsession to search and discover on our own, but to do so in the company of other seekers, a passion that doesn’t seem to diminish over time. This book is filled with such subtle epiphanies.
Posted by jnardine at September 25, 2006 09:21 AM