The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee

As much as I love to read, I am not a book buyer, and I especially I don’t have any special feelings for independent book stores, which I equate with less selection and higher prices. I buy used books online via various marketplaces because, even with shipping, it’s normally cheaper than buying a new or a used book in a bookstore, and the selection is seemingly infinite. Or, far more often, I borrow books from the library. Other than the property taxes I pay, my local library is free, even for Interlibrary Loan requests from neighboring university libraries. FREE. I can read essentially anything in print (and much out of print) through a library request or via a public domain online text.

So, I suppose it is not surprising that Lewis Buzbee’s memoir of bookstores, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, did not do much for me. It is a combination of a history of bookselling and a memoir of his own addiction to bookstores, and I spent the bulk of the book wishing it was about a love of books or a love of the written word or a love of a specific author. I was the wrong audience, and I had been hoping for a different book. I also speed read it in order to have a post ready for the Spotlight Series today. If I hadn’t made that commitment, I’d probably not have finished it at all or I’d have read it slower. Maybe if I had not read it all at once, I would not have been as irritated by parts of it. I’m not a memoir person, and this volume reinforced that.

The history portion of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop was at times quite interesting. However, the lack of footnotes or references of any kind made me suspicious. When I read nonfiction, I want to see sources. While I don’t doubt that Mr. Buzbee researched for this book and wrote true facts in the history portions, I wish I’d read the facts in a nonfiction history of bookstores, complete with references, rather than in a pseudo-memoir. There is no author’s note indicating where he did his research, and this detracted from the book for me.

And then the memoir portion honestly bored me, as memoirs often do.  I didn’t particularly like Mr. Buzbee, and details like his admission to stealing books from bookstores as a kid really did nothing to endear him to me. His personal stories of bookstores revealed an obsession that I could not relate to, and his comments about the insignificance of e-readers were hilarious in the lack of foresight (he wrote in 2005). I can’t blame him for that, I suppose, but as a whole such little details made him seem rather ridiculous to me. I found there to be little love of the ideas from books detailed in this memoir. There was some, but it more about acquiring the books rather than reading them. I cannot relate to that.

I like books. In fact, I love them. But most of the time, it is for the words, ideas, and stories in them, and not for the place from which I purchased it. As such, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop was not a memoir I related to.

All that said, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is a very attractive slim hardcover volume with deckled pages. If I was compulsive book buyer that frequented bookshops, I suspect that upon noticing The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, it would have been one that could end up in my possession for the prettiness factor. Since I am not a compulsive book buyer, I’m glad this was just a free library read.

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. I used to really love memoirs but in the last few months every one that I’ve picked up I’ve either given up on or didn’t really like.

  2. I’ve got this one on loan from a friend but haven’t had a look at it yet – it certainly intrigued me enough to want to borrow it – so sorry you found it so disappointing.

  3. Sorry this book didn’t do much for you. I loved it. It was one of my favorite books the year I read it… but, then again, I could shop for and buy books every day!

    1. JoAnn, I can relate in that I love to buy books — but I’m not compulsive and I plan ahead and find the good deals! I’m glad you liked it!

  4. I’m always looking for better prices when it comes to books. I do feel bad about not buying at independent bookstores but I’d rather have extra money to buy more books. The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop sounds like something I would enjoy.

    1. Ladytink, I don’t understand the guilt, and I for one would say don’t feel bad! If buying books is about finding the cheapest book so you can buy more books, then Independent bookstores are out; it’s their own fault for not being cheapest…

  5. I definitely consider myself a compulsive book buyer; to me, books are one of the best things I can spend my money on, and I’m grateful to be in a position where I am able to indulge this passion. I’m certainly not as obsessed as some, in that I don’t really go seeking out rare editions or things like that, but few things bring me more joy than bringing new books into my home. And a pretty book always brightens my day!

    Of course, as you say, at the end of the day, the real reason to treasure books is for what’s contained within them. Without their innards, books would hardly be so magical.

    1. Steph, see, that’s interesting because I can relate to people who buy rare editions a lot more! They plan it out, find a good deal, go and see the book and then decide. I like to buy books very much, but I find a good deal first, and I plan head and make sure that ONE is the book I really want most and I get a pretty copy.

      It’s the compulsive buying I can’t relate to — I love to buy books but I do have a budget so I have to plan ahead and can never just buy a random book…. I think I’d love to be able to buy whatever I want (as you say, it’s a great thing to have great books around us) but I am unable to. I think too much.

  6. I’m not a compulsive book buyer too, so it may not be the book for me too. I had a phase where I read lots of biography, but it sort of passed (haven’t read any for a while). Anyway it’s good to know another side of opinion since all the reviews I read about this book are good.

    1. Mee, I’m glad I’m not the only one who is definitely NOT a compulsive book buyer.

      While I’ve never liked memoirs, really, I do tend to like biographies and autobiographies — they’re less “look at me!” and tend to be about people I actually care about. I haven’t read a biography for a while either…so much fiction to read lately…thanks for the reminder.

  7. As much as I love spending time in bookstores, I can’t think of a single book about or set in bookstores that I’ve truly loved. I love the idea of books like this, but in practice they don’t do much for me. I’ll probably give this one a miss.

    1. Jenny, that’s the other thing — I don’t like to spend time in bookstores so much because they never have the books I want in stock (unlike libraries…which typically do)! But if you do love bookstores just for the romance of being in a bookstore, the coffee shop, etc. he does talk about that side. But still, I obviously can understand if the book doesn’t work for you.

  8. You might like “Sixpence House” by Paul Collins; I recently reviewed that book. It’s definitely more about books than bookstores and doesn’t focus too much on the author himself.

    I admit that I love to buy books, but from the sounds of it, I don’t know if this book would be for me.

  9. I’m sorry that you didn’t like this one — I picked it up at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest but haven’t got to it yet.

    Browsing bookstores (and the library stacks, for that matter) is great fun for me. I am not always looking for something specific, so when I come across a book that I’ve never heard about but that sounds interesting I get a thrill (yep, I’m a dork)

    1. Suzanne, I remember you’d mentioned that– like I said, I think it’s a perfect book for people who love to browse and then randomly buy books that catch their eyes. I hope you like it! It’s probably more your type of book.

      On the other hand, I tend to research and plan what books I’m going to buy next since I only get a few a month…

  10. I read this book last year-I thought it was just an ok book-the history in it was at best very superficial and it seemed the author was at time just working at low demand jobs and using his love of books as an excuse

  11. Sounds like this isn’t a book for you. It’s not really something I would read either, though I like reading about books and bookstore obsessions to a point. However, I think a full-length memoir might be too much for me.

    1. Serena, it’s really short and half it not memoir but, as Mel u said so welll, “superficial” history of bookstores. So it’s not too much; I’d say if it appeals to you give it a try.

  12. Oh, no! Rebecca, I’m so sorry you felt compelled to finish a book you disliked just for the sake of the Spotlight Series. I know sometimes they don’t work out. If you prefer books just about reading and words, have you tried Nicholas Basbanes? He has a series of four, I believe, all about loving reading 🙂

    1. Aarti, I think it’s good to keep trying new things so it’s alright. I have heard of Basbanes but have yet to read him! Thanks for the suggestion.

  13. I don’t think this book is for me either. I like to see footnotes, and I too am suspicious of people who don’t include them in their nonfiction books. Plus I’ve never really be able to get behind the independent bookstores (partially because I used to live where the closest one was almost 2 hours away) and I don’t feel like I have to own books to be a book lover. I own my favorites, of course, but I’m pretty stringent on which books get to stay on the shelves.

  14. I’ve had this one on my shelf for a long time. I’ve picked it up a couple of times, but it’s never really grabbed me. And I love to own and books! Oh, well. Maybe I’ll try again later. Thanks for the review.

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