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[142] The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop – Lewis Buzbee

Buzbee said: “I’m not here just to buy a book, though. Much of my excitement at being in a bookstore comes from the place itself, the understanding that I can stay here for as long as need be. The unspoken rules we’ve developed for the bookstore are quite different from the rules that govern other retail enterprises. While the bookstore is most often privately held, it honors a public claim on its time and space.” [3]

Matt said: Half the fun about bookstore is the scouring, to negotiate the deep canyon of bookshelves, to pull out books that for one reason or another catch my attention. The bookstore does honor a public claim on its time and space, for every single visit to the same bookstore is unique to me. Just imagine a book that has been sitting on the shelf for ages waiting to be picked up–by me. A bookstore is for hanging out, often for hours.

Buzbee said: “Part of the allowable leisure in a bookstore comes from the product it sells. Books are slow. They require time; they are written slowly, published slowly, and read slowly.” [5]

Matt said: That’s the reason why we’re living in such an adverse time for books and reading. Everything–food, clothing, media, and even politics, are consumed in bulk. Quick consumer culture not only has diminished our quality of living but has also silently eaten away our language proficiency. Books are meant to be read slowly and quietly, over a pot of tea or a cup of coffee. Unfortunately anything takes requires such concentration and time is in loggerhead to this fast-pace society where literally everybody is running around without their head. Bookstores always seem outlandish, and otherworldedly to me (and I don’t mean Borders) in the sense that it’s where time is frozen.

Buzbee said: “For the last several days I’ve had the sudden and general urge to buy a new book. I’ve stopped off at a few bookstores around the city, and while I’ve looked at hundreds and hundreds of books in that time, I have not found the one book that will satisfy my urge.” [9]

Matt said: It’s not as if I don’t have anything to read; there’s always more than a tower of perfectly good unread books (classics pile, general TBR pile, vacation pile,…) on my night-stand, not to mention the shelves of books in the living room I’ve been meaning to tackle. I find myself, maddeningly, hungry for the next one, as uet unknown. What is it? I’ll know when I see it! I no longer try to analyze this hunger, this lust that has afflicted most of my life!

Buzbee said: “It’s a common story; fill in your own blanks: I was_______years old when I happened on a novel called_______, and within six months I had read every other book by the writer known as________.” [37]

Matt said: I was thirteen. Nicholas Nickleby. Charles Dickens.

Buzbee said: “Nor is the shoe box the only shape for bookstores. A bookstore can, and will, be crowded into the most ragged of spaces, a constant battle between rising rents and lower profits, and some of the world’s great bookstores—Shakespeare and Co. in Paris and City Lights in San Francisco are two that spring to mind—occupy spaces that twist and turn like mazes out of Wonderland.” [68]

Matt said: Great minds do think like haha! These are the two bookstores that come to my mind when Buzbee talks about ragged space. I love getting lost in the warrens and tunnels and tiny, odd-shaped rooms of old bookstores. Green Apple Books, which he also mentions later in the book, has this little surreptitious staircase linking the mezzanine to the back room housing the travel section at the back of the store. Bookshelves line the ragged space of the building and extend up to ceiling. Creaky floor adds to the soundtrack of the pages turned. Today’s superstores that occupy flat, cake-box, mall spaces whose floor plans are often identical to every other branch in the chain do not impress me at all. Too much space in between shelves has inevitably stripped the bookish feeling that should make a great bookstore.

Buzbee said: “If the shelf is tight but has some give between Bulgakov and Buzzati, the bookseller can make it work. The best method is to pull the last Bulgakov and the first Buzzati halfway out, then slide the new book between them, and gently nudge.” [140]

Matt said: He even mentions Bulgakov! Bravo!

Buzbee said:”Or the book might be a gift. Books do make perfect gifts, but by their very nature, books can also be a problem as tokens of affection. The delay factor is huge. Ask any of my godkids or nieces and nephews. Oh, look, they’ve been heard to say, another book from Uncle Lew, gee, what a surprise, thank you. I can’t help myself, I have to give them books. You can thank the gift giver for the gesture, but true thanks for the books have to wait until it’s read.” [143]

Matt said:I usually don’t give books as gifts unless I have a fairly good grasp of the person’s reading taste. Nor do I expect gift of books from anyone. Anyone. It’s always dicey choosing that gift book, too. You may have loved it, but your close friend, unbeknownst to me, don’t find books about Russian literature that exciting. I make recommendation but not give them as gifts. This is something akin to giving a sweater that is the wrong size, except that there are 4 million sizes to choose from! Those to whom I give books as gifts are really special people.

5 Responses

  1. This was a fun way to review the book!

    I actually give books as presents regularly to my friends and family; I put a lot of thought into it, though, and I certainly wouldn’t give someone a book just because it was my favourite!

    If my friends and family want to get me a book, I’ll give them a crazy-long list; that way, it’s still a surprise, and they still have a lot of choice, but they also know that I’ll be excited to get it. 😀

  2. Oooh, I liked this.

    For me, I was twenty when I read The Pure and the Impure, and it was Colette.

  3. Eva:
    Book giving is a very thoughtful and time-consuming process. It bugs me whenever I find a book with written dedication at the used bookstores that hasn’t really been read. The receiver should at least pay some respect to the book itself and the person who was thoughtful enough to dedicate the book.

  4. elitist:
    I have never heard of the book nor the author, it’s one more on my list now. 🙂

  5. […] Little Hong Kong Connection Posted on September 24, 2008 by Matthew I can always relate to Lewis Buzbee’s (The Yellow Lighted Bookshop) desire to buy books even when he runs out of room for his TBR pile at […]

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