Likely Stories: The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee

Feb 21, 2019

Another fun excursion through the world of books and reading


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies. 

Christmas arrived a bit early this year, as my wife gave me several new books.  One turned out to be my best gift of the year: The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis  Buzbee.  The small format book is a memoir and a history of bookstores.  According to the jacket, Buzbee worked as a bookseller and publisher’s sales rep.  He has written six books on a variety of topics.  I love books about booksellers, libraries, as well as the smell and the quality of the printing.  He lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter.

I was thrilled by the first paragraph.  Lewis writes, “When I walk into a bookstore, any bookstore, first thing in the morning, I’m flooded with a sense of hushed excitement.  I shouldn’t feel this way.  I’ve spent most of my adult life working in bookstores, either as a bookseller or as a publisher’s sales rep, and even though I am no longer in the business, as an incurable reader I find myself in a bookstore at least five times a week. […] In the quiet of such a morning, however, the store’s displays stacked squarely and its shelves tidy and promising, I know that this no mere shop.  When a book store opens its doors, the rest of the world enters, too, the day’s weather and the day’s news, the streams of customers, and of course the boxes of books and the many other worlds they contain—books of facts and truths, books newly written and those first read centuries before, books of great relevance and of absolute banality.  Standing in the middle of this confluence, I can’t help but feel the possibility of the universe unfolding at littler, once upon a time” (3).  Well put!  From the smallest country library to the great, sprawling cathedrals of books, I enter with the same excitement.

Lewis continues, “The book is a uniquely durable object, one that can be fully enjoyed without being damaged.  A book doesn’t require fuel, or food, or service; it isn’t very messy and rarely makes noise. A book can be read over and over, then passed on to friends, or resold at a garage sale.  A book will not crush or freeze and will still work when filled with sand. 

Even if it falls into the bath, it can be dried out, ironed if necessary, and then finished.  Should the spine of a book crack so badly the pages fall out, one simply has to gather them before the wind blows them away and wrap with a rubber band” (8).  I have several treasured (to me) out of print books with a rubber band.  Somehow, I cannot bring myself to find better copies.

Buzbee also lists a number of the best bookstores in the US, including Upstart Crow, The Tattered Cover Bookshop, City Lights in San Francisco, as well as many others.  Unfortunately, some of these landmark shops have disappeared.  He also spends a lot of time-sharing information about the famous Parisian bookstore, Shakespeare and Co., owned and operated by Sylvia Beech and her partner Adrienne Monnier.  Sylvia had no experience with business, but an aunt loaned her enough to get started.  It became the most widely patronized bookshop in France catering mostly to American Expats until the beginning of World War II.

Lewis Buzbee’s wonderful “pocketbook” The Yellow-Light Bookshop, is an excursion though the story of bookshops, libraries, reading, and stories for those who love books.  If you are such a reader, this book was made for you.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!