Monday, January 26, 2015
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop
When I was roughly 8 years old, my parents moved us from the city to the suburbs. The library was 7 blocks away, an easy bike ride over what were still very urban streets. It was housed in a corner store front building; the librarian sat at a heavy oak desk to the right of the front door. I would head directly to "my section" which was located in the back, right-hand side of the room - second row from the end. It was from this library that I borrowed my first chapter book, The Wizard of Oz. It was bound in an appropriately green cover, sprinkled with small yellow fleur de lis. I wish I could find one just like it. And then, after carrying my stack of books quietly to the desk, the librarian would hand me a pencil so I could print my name on the little pocket card. She would pound the date stamp on the pad and "plunk" it onto the return slip glued to the inside cover. I would pedal home, books in the basket of my bike.
As Lewis Buzbee writes in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, his very readable book about books, printing them, selling them, lusting over them, "[t]ake someone who likes to read; give her a comfy place to do so and ample time for doing it; add one good book, and then more; stand back." As all book-lusters know to be true, we are "drawn to the bookstore by the books that moved us, and stopping for just a moment, we stayed for a long time."
A book, as Buzbee points out, "is a uniquely durable object, one that can be fully enjoyed without being damaged. A book doesn't require fuel, 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 crash 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."
It is clear that Lewis Buzbee loves the physical book, the printed version, the real McCoy. When first published in 2006, this little volume expressed his concern that ebooks and Internet booksellers might signal the end of the bookstore and the book-book. However, as proof of the resiliency of the printed book he asks us to take a simple test: "Look around on the streetcar or bus or airplane and count how many e-readers you see. None. We still prefer that quiet rustle of the pages, and besides, how do you press a wildflower into the pages of an e-book?" Fast-forward to 2015, however, and it's easy to see things have changed. Not everyone among the general readership desires the "quiet sensuality" of the printed book. In his 2008 Afterword, he admits there's no doubt about it - it's a bad time to be a bookseller.
Yes, I loved this little volume. What book-luster would not? Who among us hasn't, on occasion, become a "book snoop," straining to make out what that person sitting across from you on the train is reading? Loving how the unique smell of the bookstore wafts over you as soon as you enter. Being alone among others? Who hasn't stopped in a bookstore for "just a moment" and stayed a long time? I have no idea whether the bookstore or the printed book will survive as technology presses on. Or whether a young reader in the next millennium will find the same satisfaction in flipping electronic pages as I did reading under the covers with a flashlight, or peddling home, basket heavy with Nancy Drew or Heidi or that silly Mrs. Goose And Her Friends. Or printing my name on the flyleaf. This book belongs to ME.
But one thing will always be true: When one opens the covers of a book, the universe unfurls itself.