The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir of a Life with Books

A review

Paul Combs

--

Image: Graywolf Press

If you have read any of my other book-related articles, you already know I have a special fondness for books about books. This is true whether it’s fiction (especially bibliomysteries) or nonfiction; as long as it’s about books I’m happy, even if the story isn’t instant-classic caliber. Sometimes, however, I strike gold.

In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, author Lewis Buzbee does something few writers would be able to: he makes the history of the book and the bookstore something you just cannot put down. During his long career, Buzbee has written both nonfiction and 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. Just when the history could start to become tedious, Buzbee switches over 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. Included throughout this 3000-year bookish journey are Buzbee’s own journeys, 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 solid case for how much we need bookstores (as if book lovers needed convincing) and he laments the decline in reading across America. I was, however, 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 had never even heard of before.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this story, you can support my writing directly by leaving a tip below using the small (and kind of weird) hand icon (you tip waiters and bartenders, so why not writers?).

--

--

Paul Combs

Writer, bookseller, would-be roadie for the E Street Band. My ultimate goal is to make books as popular in Texas as high school football...it may take a while.