While I was being educated by a man with the last name of my future children’s book character, I was thinking about how much I didn’t particularly like this man’s book. The future children’s book character will be some sort of fly with kaleidoscopic eyes named Buzbee. Oh wait, JK Rowling already did that.
(You do understand the irony of a fly named Buzbee, right)
It had all the right things; written by a book lover, about books and the bookish people who work around them, stack them, shimmy them in between each other for the perfect fit on the shelf. It has history of the book itself, how exactly was it sown together during the Enlightenment and why was everyone so clap-happy to praise that Gutenberg printing press. Now, I’ve been awakened to the history of book culture, and book making and I’ve discovered that I’m not the only one reading secretly at stop lights, just below the window line so in case a cop glides by he won’t pull me for being reckless. Reading is reckless, you know.
Buzbee even discussed, for an entire chapter, a woman completely dear to my heart, Sylvia Beach. She was the woman to publish Ulysses against the tyranny of censorship, who escaped the Nazi’s by a hair by moving her bookshop to a fourth floor level and never selling any books to the regime. She’s a Parisian book hero. Most of you probably know her as the Shakespeare & Co. original owner, but she gets a mere chapter in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop.
I think I didn’t like this book because I had to push myself to continue reading with the “it gets better” mentality. And it did get better, towards the end (without the final chapter included, what a bore). I was much more pumped to read further in the second half because of the personal stories of bookshop owners Buzbee included.
I loved the way Buzbee outlined his favorite large and small bookstores; bookstores with crates of poetry lining walls of a studio, or City blocks of history books with special sections on locomotives. West Coast bookstores big as shopping malls or East Coast poetry rooms cramped with the small-as-fingers volumes and chapbooks stapled simply. I love learning about bookstores and where I should travel based on how many streets are lined with words in languages romantic and gutteral, or covers I can pet quietly in the stacks. He talks about Portland, Texas, Harvard, Paris – swoon. Although Paris may smell (says tourists I don’t know) and the only real knowledge I have of the city comes from the movie Ratatouille, I’m still invested in visiting the City of Lights because the Rues of Bookstores explained in Buzbee’s coaxing words.
I guess I didn’t like this book because half the time I was bored. (Gasp, boredom in a book about books). It’s a shame really because I hate being bored in books; knowing you have to pick up that book in the next day, hide it lower into your purse pockets so you forget you’re reading it. It just wasn’t all that catching and I think it’s because of something Claire and I have realized we crave in novels.
The poetic, wax poetic, ars poetica, poetically morose, the metaphors, the sweet sounds of beauty echoing through the vowels and the roundness of a sentence. There wasn’t any beauty here. Yes, I pick up books and I carry them around in stackfulls through the bookstore, or the grocery store, I find it fascinating that all of us bookish, hip-wide women do that, but you need to tell me this in a way that makes me feel beautiful with that burden of books in my arms. If I’m sharing a secret book lust with twenty people in a bookstore, no matter if I’m looking in short fiction and someone else is in how to speak Spanish for dummies and someone else is into self-help books on divorce, I want you to tell me in some sensual way how we’re all connected. Say how we all touch our lips with our fingertips when we’re deciding on a purchase, or how we all will kneel to seek out that bottom shelf, rub lines into the wood dust, and finally fall onto our asses on the worn carpet and lean spine against shelf to enjoy a small selection, a nibble at the book we’re considering. I want you to tell me this in some delicious way.
I’m disappointed in the lack of humanizing books. I look at my books like small friends in my pocketbook. I carefully place them in the bigger pocket, making sure the cover is not dog eared and won’t forever be marked by a crease. I always carry an extra in case one gets lonely, or I finish one and can’t possibly be stranded without words for an afternoon.
I have this unreal expectation that books are like the movie Toy Story and they come alive in the night and discuss academia with each other, pretend they have tea like girls cross-legged on the bottom of the community pool. If I ever write a book about books, and my life with them, people will 1. think I’m a crazy person, and 2. realize the beauty and the humanity in books.
Books are organic in their nature, they’re made of trees and patterns of bark. They have expectations to be real, smell like sap, or grandpa’s closet, or the dust left in antique dresser drawers. They are as human a thing as you can touch in this world filled with plastic, computer screens, air waves, internet. Technically, they’re bound by humans, bought by humans, filled with some sort of human creature, spilled on by human drinks, sweat, spit, dribble. They’re stained, and folded, and written in. They are touched, and sensed, and loved.
Why would you write a book about books without all of that?
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is the story of the scientific history of books, the history of people who love books and what they argued about in the cluttered back room, standing among the cardboard boxes of books wrapped in plastic. I did discover what recto meant (right page) and verso (left page). And now I will forever use that to describe my body: my spine, verso, my belly, recto. (Maybe I’ve finally taken my argument to far). If you want a short history of books, booksellers, bookshops, carpets on sidewalks with mass market paperbacks, read this. If you wonder about the quirky curly haired girl behind the counter at a bookstore, her knowledge of your erotica purchase, her welcome invasion into your privacy, then maybe read this book. Just don’t expect much magic. Don’t wish for roses.
Now enjoy a bookish short film: (There is a parental advisory on this short film for sexual content). Plus, you may have to go to youtube to be able to see the thing. Complications, complications.