Monday, November 20, 2006


I finished Lewis Buzbee's book The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop last week. When I began the book I mentioned that there was something about it I didn't like. I can now say what that something is. But first I must lead up to it a little. The book is billed as a memoir and a history. The history part is the history of the bookseller. Sometimes it is interesting, sometimes sort of bland like he is just repeating what he found in his research. The memoir part is where the something I didn't like comes up. Buzbee has a tendency to get a little too specific. His first bookstore job was at Upstart Crow. Upstart Crow is a no longer existing small chain of bookstores in California that had cafes in them before big chains caught on to the idea. There was an Upstart Crow in San Diego for a while. I only went there a few times since it was downtown on the bay in a sort of high-end shopping "village." It was a great store, it had sort of an old dim manor library feel to it with nooks and crannies and dark wood floors and bookcases that went to the ceiling. So when Buzbee writes about the store I can picture it in my mind. Even being able to do this I got a bit annoyed when he would talk specifically about the store layout and then store politics, things that didn't matter unless you'd worked there. My annoyance level went up even further when he left Upstart Crow for another bookstore called Printer's, an independent in northern California. Buzbee tries to describe the place (a real printing press by the front door), but he doesn't manage to evoke any kind of image for me. And then, he gets really specific and starts comparing Upstart Crow to Printer's, explaining why he went to the new store and how much better Printer's is and why the people who run it are better than the corporate minded folk at the other place and on and on. If I worked at either of the stores perhaps this would be interesting. But since I didn't it just sort of seemed like somewhat malicious gossip. The book wasn't all bad though. There were sections that made me want to immediately quit my job and become a bookseller even though I hate retail. And there was just book talk in general that was also quite enjoyable, like this:

Last week, I found a copy of the essayist Loren Eisley's The Immense Journey on top of a garbage can at the busiest intersection in my neighborhood. It's a first edition, with a jacket, and in fine shape. Published in 1957, it appears never to have been read. The book was on top of a stack of other books, and in good urban fashion, was obviously meant to be taken, but I looked around with a strange sense of guilt, as if I were about to steal something.
I liked this passage because when we lived in CA my Bookman and I found some good books this way. No first editions, and mostly beat up, but readable. We also left books that we no longer wanted out on the wall by the dumpster behind our apartment building. We'd put them out in the morning and by dinner they'd all be gone. Bookworms are elusive creatures, we never caught one looking over the books and we were never caught looking over anyone else's. Nor did we come across any other foraging bookworms as we strolled the neighborhood. Hmm, maybe there is a story for National Geographic there! Over all, the book was so-so, the moments of pleasure balancing out the moments of boredom, neither gaining ground to tip the book one way or the other. It is one of those books that I am glad I borrowed from the library instead of buying.