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Book: The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop

June 27, 2008
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I read about this book on Eva’s wonderful bookblog and had to check it out (especially since my library had it — I love bookstores, but I love libraries more…). I especially had to because many of the stores he talks about are local — San Francisco Bay Area.
This was a fun read and had lots of interesting tidbits. I wish it were much longer, as I would have loved to have learned more about the Alexandria libraries or more indepth histories of booksellers and how books were created. This was like, Bookselling 101 (the easy course). Of course, that’s usually the most fun class since you get all the cool stuff and none of the ponderous details (which I also enjoy).

One thing I appreciated was the discussion of big-box bookstores vs. independents. Of course I love and prefer independent bookstores, but I appreciated how he posed the question not as: bigbox vs. independent, but rather: bookstores vs. no bookstores. Progress happens and the fact is, there are more books out there than ever before. That said, the bookstore is a precious cultural resource and this definitely made me think twice about buying a book sight unseen off Amazon. It also made me realize that the advantage of going to the bookstore means that you get a particular point of view from the bookseller — you can’t view every book on the internet, and you just get the full selection, no discernment — just random reviews. But, for instance, if you are looking for a great science fiction novel but aren’t sure if you’ll like the book or not, you should head to a science fiction bookseller who will be able to talk about the book with you and direct you to the thing you’d probably like the most. Plus, you’ll be able to sit down with the book and read a few pages, carry it around for awhile, see what you think. When ordering a book off the internet (when you don’t already know the book), you don’t know what you’re getting. You only know if these other people liked or didn’t like it — reviews can be great, but only if they’re from people who are looking at the book from a similar point of view as your own.

So, I’ll do my best to actually GO to the bookstore next time I need a book. I’ll ask the bookseller to order the book for me after discussing it, if they don’t have it in stock. I’ll wander the bookshelves and see if there’s anything else I’d like. Support my local bookseller.

I also found fascinating the story of how Ulysses was first published by Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare & Co. in the 20s. I loved how they (Beach and Joyce) agreed that the cover had to be the perfect shade of blue used in the Greek flag. They researched inks from all over Europe to find just the right color. I love that. I’ve tried to read that book before and it’s always bested me. I may attempt it again soon. Maybe I need to read a primer on it first.

I agreed with the author that the perfect time to wander a bookstore is a rainy midweek afternoon… not many customers, no reason to be outside, lots of time to wander the stacks. A fresh hot coffee and a pile of books to ponder… does it get any better?

Well, for me it does. I love libraries even more than I love bookstores — the abundance of books, unlimited by my pocketbook funds. I have the luxury of choosing books on a whim… maybe I’ll try this book about Greece… maybe this unknown author has some hidden talent… maybe I’ll try that author my friend has been telling me about… I like how quiet libraries are. I love the respect for books and how each person who checks out a book is a caretaker for that book while they have it. I also like how I can return the books when I’m done and only have books that I want to keep in my house. We have so many books already… the library helps keep the multitude to a (sort of) reasonable size.

I also prefer used books to new books (almost every time). I like used bookstores better than new bookstores. I love the old musty dusty smell of used books, I love the notes in the margins and the dedications in the front covers. I love finding old 70s editions that have way better covers than the 90s reprintings. I like crumbly old paperbacks and the dollar shelves. I like the odd assortment, the chance of finding something long-searched-for.

I have a few favorite bookstores here in the Bay Area that I don’t go to often enough. I love Green Apple in the city. I like the Sunrise Metaphysical bookstore in Berkeley, and Books Inc. in Alameda (Alameda has a couple good crumbly old bookstores in addition to this new bookstore). I love Black Oak Books up in the Gourmet Ghetto and City Lights is always worth a poke around.
Nothing can beat Powell’s in Portland, of course, and I have a soft spot for Grass Roots Bookstore in Corvallis, OR. I have also spent quite a lot of money at the Book Bin in Corvallis.

Nowadays, I seem to spend most of my booksearching time at the library. I also like to poke around thrift stores to see what people have donated. Garage sales are also good book sources. Um, basically, I’m cheap. Yeah. Also, with a few exceptions, I’m usually just as happy with a 20-year-old book as with a recent publication. That’s the thing about books — they don’t really go out of style. A Tom Robbins in 2008 is just as nutty as in 1980.

Aaaaand, that’s my bookstore soapbox for the evening. And now I really do have a dilemma. I have a big stack of books and I’m going on a trip next week and I have to figure out what to bring. I have a couple of guilty-pleasure books that I think would be great airplane books. But what to read to finish out this weekend here at home? Well, I’m off to the stacks (otherwise known as our hallway…).

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