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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 21.07.06

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, A History
By Lewis Buzbee, Graywolf, $13.50

A good bookshop is the embodiment of a paradox. It is a privately owned space which is enjoyed by sections of the public who want to be private, surrounded by books. Lewis Buzbee is, what he calls a ?bookluster??. But not for him the reading of books taken off library shelves or bought online. He is a bookshop addict. He has worked in all aspects of the book chain from being a reader to running a bookshop. He is also a writer of some wit and charm.

The name of the book is taken from a famous line of Van Gogh : ?I think that I still have it in my heart someday to paint a bookshop with the front yellow and pink in the evening?like a light in the midst of the darkness.?? For Buzbee the last nine of the words of the quotation are crucial. Books and bookshops are like lights in the gloom. This is a book that evokes books and bookshops, and as such is a delight for book lovers. The book is part memoir and part history. Buzbee, because he spent time working in bookshops in the Bay Area in California, gives readers an insider?s account of life inside a bookshop. He also provides a short history of the evolution of books and bookshops. His book will touch a chord in the hearts of all book lovers, even of those who love books but are not willing to spend their lives employed in a bookshop.

A lover of books is never lonely. In the words of Buzbee, ?it?s impossible to find any boundary between books and life in the world??. A book lover turns the pages of a book and a universe unfolds, and he enters it conscious that he is entering a world that is part make belief and part real. But for the few hours that the reader is with the book, the world of the book becomes the real world. A book lover?s entry into a bookshop is the beginning of an analogous experience. A book lover rarely enters a bookshop in search of a specific title. Even on the rare occasion when he enters a bookshop to look for one specific book, he never leaves it without looking at the other books on the shelves. A genuine book lover browses, as he browses he enters another world, the world of books. Once upon a time there was a book and there were readers. Buzbee?s book is the story of that unending bonding which began when the first unknown scholar poured over a papyrus scroll and thus unwittingly started a tradition.

Buzbee?s book is an addition to the growing genre of writing about the joys of reading and book-buying. His volume, elegantly produced, can sit on the shelves of every book lover next to A History of Reading, 84 Charing Cross Road and Ex Libris. This is an incestuous genre because book lovers write the books which book lovers buy and read. But there is no sin in the genre because book lovers, by virtue of being book lovers, have already found their heaven.

This book is an ode to reading. It is a celebration of books and bookshops. For this alone, all readers and book lovers are in Buzbee?s debt. But there are no debtors and creditors in the world of books.