Book Thoughts: The Yellow-lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History by Lewis Buzbee

The Yellow-lighted Bookshop is written by a lover of books and bookstores who worked as a bookseller for over 20 years. While it is the author’s memoir of his time in bookstores, it also includes the history of book selling and publishing.


“What better place to enjoy the stretched hours than a bookstore.”

Some of my friends, those who don’t read, say that reading for me has already been an addiction. Reading this book reminded me that I am not alone, and thus gave me consent to continue plunging into this obsession. So I would just basically enumerate some of Buzbee’s thoughts that I could relate to. Hehe!

“In the bookstore, we may be alone among others, but we are connected to others.”

By just walking into a bookstore, the book lovers that we are, there is already a sense of excitement within. Then there’s an urge to buy books, even if we still have a lot of books unread at home and other books that we want to reread. Or even if we don’t buy, just roaming and looking at the titles is enough for us to enjoy hours of being in a bookstore. Buzbee even pointed out the advantage of the physical nature of books, that even though it has varying sizes, they still have the same basic shape, slim and rectangular, so that it can be easily shelved and stored. And we can easily slide a book out between two others and easily return it in the same spot. While I never thought about these simple things before, reading these made me appreciate books even more.

Also, during travels, it’s a must that I include bookstores or libraries in my itinerary, which my non-bookish friends would sort of laugh about. Within this book, Buzbee enumerated some of his favorite bookstores, which I hope I could someday visit. Another thing mentioned that I am guilty of is book-snooping. If I see someone with a book, I would try to peer over to see what the person is reading. I’ll look at the cover, curious about the title, maybe glimpse some words. If I can’t see them though, I am satisfied with just seeing a stranger reading, a kindred spirit.

Buzbee also visualized a scenario that creates what he calls a pleasant equilibrium. He described how readers love coffee and cigarettes plus reading or writing, with long conversations or just staring out the window. I have wondered even before, why do book lovers love coffee? Yes, not all readers, but a lot. Or why are there a lot of readers in cafes? And bookshops beside coffee houses or bookshops with coffee shops? Didn’t we all dreamed of a bookstore plus a cafe business? In some way, he answered these questions with this quote:

“The bookstore and the coffee house are natural allies;
neither has a time limit, slowness is encouraged.”

I learned a lot about the history of bookshops and booksellers, about printing and publishing. It’s funny that the first booksellers are closely associated with swindlers. The book mentioned about the great library at Alexandria, and the Gutenberg press, with interesting facts like how English and European bookstores were once arranged by publishers rather than by section, why and when were massmarket paperbacks first published and up to the present with the role of online sellers like Amazon. In the midst of these history lessons, he also told us stories of camaraderie between book lovers. It was clearly manifested during the publishing of Ulysses by James Joyce involving the Paris bookstore called Shakespeare and Co. Another story is about the controversy of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. These two stories are inspiring proofs of how book lovers connect, not only in solitude.

It also tackled the “death” of literature, when “novel” died, when “bookstore” died, and how electronic media took people away from books. But Buzbee gave us another perspective. It was said that electronic media and the Internet are the bookstore’s greatest nemesis. But really, they’re not. It’s true that this book hails physical books and brick-and-mortar bookstores. But at the end of the book, it also informs us the importance of Internet in literature. It helps readers to connect. One example is how I got this book. This book is our book club’s Travelling Book #2, a book passed among members. If it ain’t for the Internet, I wouldn’t have discovered Goodreads where our book club is based. I wouldn’t have met some of my favorite people, my bookish friends, who would recommend books to buy and to read. The web is connecting readers, not keeping readers out of the bookstore.

And now, by blogging about this book, I’m using the Internet to somehow pass to others what I have read. I’m telling you that I enjoyed reading this book. So when you are stretching some hours in a bookstore and see this, maybe you’ll decide to pick it up and buy it.

(4/5 stars)


4 thoughts on “Book Thoughts: The Yellow-lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History by Lewis Buzbee

  1. Book-snooping! And including bookstores and libraries on your itinerary during travels! We’re like spirit animals, haha.

    I am in love with this post, Meliza. And because of you I want to get my own copy of this book too! 🙂

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