A proud and unrepentant biblio-addict explains how he got that way—and how books and bookstores have evolved, as well.
Reading this gentle memoir/history is itself a bit like browsing in a friendly bookshop. Buzbee, who began his long tenure in the book business as a teenaged clerk at a now-defunct shop called the Upstart Crow, and who has subsequently published fiction (Fliegelman’s Desire, 1990, not reviewed), is an amiable guide. The author came from a family with only mild interest in books (Reader’s Digest Condensed Books lined some of the shelves), and it was not until he read The Grapes of Wrath in high school that his addiction began. The early pages are principally memoir, but about halfway through, Buzbee begins to interweave lengthy sections on the history of books and bookselling. He rehearses the story of the great library at Alexandria, the invention and modifications of the printing press, the rise of the bookshop and its frequent neighbor, the coffeehouse. (We learn that books used to be displayed horizontally, not vertically, on shelves.) The author teaches us, as well, about the emergence of the superstore (both B. Dalton and Waldenbooks arrived in 1969), the meaning of the ISBN, the importance of used-book dealers, the rise of online bookselling. He acknowledges that Amazon, et al., have wounded the bricks-and-mortar stores, but he does not foresee a time when there are no traditional shops. Nor does he think e-books or print-on-demand texts will ever replace the familiar paperback. Buzbee offers a strong chapter in praise of free-speech-loving booksellers, with special attention to the Salman Rushdie case and the publication of Ulysses. He fires some shots at the Patriot Act and takes us on a tour of his favorite shops, among them Square Books in Oxford, Miss., and City Lights in San Francisco.
A leisurely stroll with a knowledgeable but unpretentious companion through some very interesting aisles.