June 6, 2012

Books Are People Too

Lewis Buzbee, Author of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop

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.

Sylvia Beach

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.

29 comments so far.

29 responses to “Books Are People Too”

  1. maedez says:

    Great piece. We think alike.

  2. I absolutely love this. You should write that book.

  3. Brianna Soloski says:

    It’s funny you should post this, because I just deleted this book from my Amazon wishlist the other day. I’ve been getting really picky lately about the books I read and this one just didn’t make the cut.

    • Cassie says:

      I think it had its high points but overall I expected more. No one wants to read a book that they dread to pick up again. I think you made a good decision. Question is what books got saved. That’s what I want to know.

      • Brianna Soloski says:

        Haha! So many. It’s ridiculous. I read multiple books at a time and still feel overwhelmed by the number of books I want to read.

        • Cassie says:

          I can’t do the multiple books thing. I’m not sure why, just never been that kind of reader. I do, though, feel daunted at the amount of books on my to-read list. I read a column the other day that said if you read a book a week then you will most likely read 3,200 books in your lifetime which just depresses me. That seems like such a low number. I’m going to make it my goal to beat it!

          • Brianna Soloski says:

            That’s it? That doesn’t seem like very many. That’s 61.5 years (3200 divided by 52), which only has you living until 66 or so, assuming you didn’t learn how to read until age 6. I don’t like that at all.

          • Cassie says:

            Wow you did all the math, amazing. I was quite shocked by that number as well. Maybe it is meant for the average nonbookish person.

          • Brianna Soloski says:

            On a calculator, but yes. I was curious. I wish I could read a book a week. That would be amazing, but I just don’t have the time.

          • Cassie says:

            I read about two books a week, give or take a few depending on what’s happening. It’s kind of insane when I think about it. I totally understand not having the time though.

          • Brianna Soloski says:

            Holy macaroni! I should have been doing that when I was unemployed for two and a half years and had 24 hours a day free.

          • Cassie says:

            Yes maam! I hated reading in high school and college but as soon as I picked it up again I just read around working my two jobs.

          • Brianna Soloski says:

            Yeah. I try to read every night before bed and as much as I can on the weekends.

          • Cassie says:

            It’s about quality not quantity anyway. I always fall asleep when I read before bed, haha. Good for you!

          • Brianna Soloski says:


  4. didiita says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Now, when is your book coming out? I want to read it! 😛

  5. haileyjw says:

    LOVE this! I think your description of what it’s like to be literally in love with books and the surrounding magic is perfect. Even though you didn’t particularly like the book in question, the way you describe it without bias, for what it really is makes me want to read it too. Thanks! Great post!

    • Cassie says:

      You should. It definitely wasn’t all bad. There were certainly eye opening parts and parts about the history of the book seller that were really interesting. I don’t think I can say that I don’t recommend it because it gave me a brief education.

  6. grainsifter says:

    I loved this post as I love all of your posts as I love almost every word you write except for that third word of your blog title (well make that fourth too, when in conjunction with third) which I still want you to change before you rocket off to literary fame and are known as the brilliant author of such ephemerally beautiful works who began with a blog named…

    I swear, girl, you could write about laundry detergent and you would have me enthralled… 🙂 You are magical.

    • Cassie says:

      That’s funny because I think we have similar writing styles. I think were both frivolous with words like were decorating a house or something, planting a garden.

      Thank you, thank you for all the compliments. I need to email you which I will do in two seconds.

      And I will also consider changing the blog name in a bit, I get some strange googles with this blog name. Some of he things I would rather not know people Google. Bleh.

  7. Bea says:

    Could it be that “Books and Bowel Movements” is not the most beautiful name for a blog? I like it, but I am not a writer, and I am not a writer who can make things sound so wonderful. After reading your blog, I want to go to a bookstore and lay my spine against a shelf. Great writing no matter what you call your blog.

    • Cassie says:

      Thanks Momma. The bowel movements are a nod to our family so I can’t really get rid of them at this point. Although, they do bring creepy google searches to my site.

  8. writerlyderv says:

    A book is a warm, pulsing object in your hands. Everyone wonders why I reread so much, but it’s like meeting old friends. You wouldn’t say you’re not going to meet a friend again because once was good enough.

  9. crissamj says:

    And this is why I love your blog!

    I like thinking of books as human, or at least alive, and I’m a little “too attached to my books.” I like to carry one (sometimes two, oh my!) with me in my bag. Even if I know I’m not going to have time to read them, somehow having them next to me makes me feel better. Like, I could read them at any moment. 🙂

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Hi, I’m Cass

I am a writer, educator and genuine creative living on the coast of NC. Our house is built on sunshine with my husband BJ, dog named Tucker, and our two very sassy cats: Fromage and Jasper.

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