Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Review

For book lovers, there's just something about books about books, and in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, San Francisco author Lewis Buzbee does something few writers would be able to: he makes the history of the book and the bookstore something you just can't put down. During his career, Buzbee has written both fiction and non-fiction, and he has the ability to paint a vivid picture with very few words. When he describes a favorite bookshop on a dark, rainy Tuesday in November, you can feel the biting wind and see the inviting warmth of the store beckoning.

The book is billed as both a memoir and a history, and perhaps that is what makes it work. Right at the moment the historical aspect could start to become tedious, Buzbee switches gears to the memoir side, giving readers a glimpse into the world of the bookseller that few knew existed. And he is no newcomer to the book world, having started as a clerk at a San Jose bookstore during his freshman year of college, and continuing in either book selling or as a publisher's sales rep for the next thirty years.

The history of the bookstore is obviously intertwined with the history of books and book making, and The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop takes the reader on a fascinating journey from the first papyrus scrolls and the great Library of Alexandria through the e-book and mega-chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble. Mixed throughout this 3000-year journey are Buzbee's own journey, his love of books, and some laugh-out-loud moments. By the time you finish the book, you will definitely want to sneak a peek into the back room of your local bookstore, hoping to see some of the things he has seen.

Buzbee makes a convincing case for how much we need bookstores, and he laments the decline in reading across America. Some may be surprised that a man who spent the better part of his life working in independent bookstores bears no grudges against the major chain retailers or Internet sites like Amazon. He does, however, have a few caustic words for the large discount and warehouse stores.

What is evident throughout The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is that Buzbee is a man who has a reverence for books ("book lust" is the term he uses most often). And his book lust is contagious. When you have finished this slim, 216-page volume, you may find yourself more likely to slow down and rediscover the joy of wandering through rows and rows of shelves on a rainy afternoon, stumbling upon that perfect book you'd never even heard of before.

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