In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Buzbee, a former bookseller and sales representative, celebrates the unique experience of the bookstore–the smell and touch of books, 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. Interwoven throughout is an historical account of the bookseller’s trade–from the great Alexandria library with an estimated one million papyrus scrolls to Sylvia Beach’s famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, which led to the effort to publish and sell James Joyce’s Ulysses during the 1920s.
The allure of books that encourage us to shipwreck, or more accurately beach, ourselves on the shores of our local bookshops, are always welcome and it was with great excitement I managed to borrow a copy of this one.
The front cover of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is an encouragement to indulge the text in a relaxing environment. The most eye-catching thing about it though, is the subtitle, a memoir, a history, which doubles the anticipation, whilst also appearing a little odd to find both genres fitted into one tome. Thankfully, the combination manages to work, even if, at times, the results make for an uneven reading experience.
Depending on how much of an interest you have in the enterprising beginning of the sellers, and the subsequent shops, there will likely be quite a bit of familiar ground that is covered – the library of Alexandria being notable – but as the centuries tick by there is still enough obscure information to delight and inform. Being a short summary of the ages, it has the added bonus of encouraging the curious to hunt out more books on the subject.
The memoir was what I came for, and it doesn’t disappoint. Nothing beats the reminiscences of a book lover; A Pound of Paper is an excellent case in point. It’s something the reader can both appreciate and on occasion commiserate with and also allows a chance of finding and adding reams of new titles to the ever-growing lists of ‘need to be reads’.
Whilst the encouragement to browse and wile away time in literary establishments is explored in loving detail, the business side is also examined, through the good and bad experiences of the salesperson, and rep. It’s not overly eye-opening but is absorbing, nonetheless. In fact, throughout the memoir, I will say I was, on occasion, enthralled in the text.
Apart from the behind the scenes anecdotes, there is also a look at the threat of online shopping, which isn’t too interesting but can be forgiven as the book is dated, being written in 2006. The talk of censorship, and the government tracking of reading habits if you pay by card, as well as the sanitisation and uniformity of so many chain shops today are also touched upon. The latter of which is a saddening plight which we can all do our bit to stave off by going independent.
Despite the few flaws that The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop has, this is nevertheless a book that will inevitably champion that voice in your head which constantly nags at you to purchase yet more books. Not only that but to take some time to appreciate the atmosphere of the places we buy, and to remember the history of how such places came to be.
A life (and book) affirming read, whether you lurk or splurge, the pleasure of holding a book in one’s hands and appreciating the choice we have will leave the reader valuing our still evolving bookstores even more than usual.