The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop

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Before I start, let me post a hypersensitivity alert--this was, overall a very fine book. But what you're likely to read about more than anything else are my quibbles with it because he managed to push two hot-buttons in one slender volume.

The book is both a personal history and a history of bookselling at large. I shared an excerpt that has provoked in everyone who has heard it the same reaction--"That was me!" And the book is fascinating with bits and pieces and insights into the bookselling world. The memoir material really appealed to me. The data on how much money various parties make from the sale of a books was also fascinating. The tale of how booksellers were once book printers and in the course of time became book printers again, was fascinating.

Indeed, except for the two points I'm about to grouse about, most of the book was fascinating and rewarding. The last chapter lagged a bit, but even it had some fascinating anecdotes about unique bookstores.

Okay, my two gripes--the two hot buttons. The hoary old "repression of the Middle Ages" big-bad Catholic Church nonsense makes its customary appearance. One would have hoped that with a person so enamored of books, he would have taken the time to disabuse himself of the pervasive anti-Catholic bigotry and diatribe that informs most of our Elementary School educations. Ah, but not so. While there may be the merest of nods toward the scriptoria--the Church was the means of repression. Works it did not care for were not tendered to all and sundry. Essential knowledge was locked away, while the enlightened Islam shared all. Balderdash! The western world has what it does of age old Classics because of the scriptoria--not because (or at least not solely because of) Islamic preservation of the classics. But to treat Buzbee fairly, he does go on a bit about the wanton destruction of the library at Alexandria.

The second point that set me off, but which is at least merely a disagreement of degree not of kind, was his rant and rage at "censorship" and his exaltation of the Bookstore as the defender of the free exchange of ideas. In this case he picked the cause of Salman Rushdie and that marathon readings of the utterly unreadable The Satanic Verses that occurred in bookstores around the world after the fatwa against Rushdie was issued. In the course of which we have the usual defense of The Anarchist's Cookbook and the obligatory slash at Lofting's Dr. Doolittle (with perhaps a good deal of justification). He also attacks The Patriot's Act (not necessarily a bad thing). However, perhaps it is only me, but I could care less if the FBI wanted to spend long office hours poring over the lists of books I check out from the library or get from bookstores. And I doubt the FBI is particularly interested. This is one of those matters like confession, where you go in thinking you've got about the most shocking thing in the world to tell the priest, and the poor man on the other side of the screening has to prop his eyelids open just to keep awake long enough to give absolution. I'm not defending the Patriot Act's carte blanche to invade the privacy of the individual in this way. But I can't get too worked up about it. After they've gotten through the four-thousandth checkout of Howl's Moving Castle (book and film) or the thirty-thousandth romantic thriller (Linda uses my card as well) they'll be needing something stronger than the freeze-dried coffee they're eating to keep them awake. I don't quake in my boots at the prospect of someone reading my reading list. Can't say I'm particularly fond of the notion, but I don't get all worked up over it either. And perhaps it's good that some people, like Buzbee get all in a froth over it--I'll leave it to him.

However, the right to the free exchange of ideas is not unlimited. In my mind there is no question that The Anarchist's Cookbook falls squarely into the domain of things that should never have achieved print and whose eradication from print would not be a great loss to the ages. The free exchange of ideas does not reach to pornography, pedophilia, and perversions. No one needs to know much of what is laid out in the works of the Marquis de Sade. Free exchange and protection thereof does not mean that we do not discriminate and choose to class come ideas as not worthy of furtherance. And this is where activists begin to lose their minds. They are indiscriminate in the demands for protection--and frankly I'm in favor of some forms of government censorship. I don't think a criminal should be able to profit from his memoirs or from his artwork. I don't think society needs a flood of pornographic images and semi-pornographic images to prove that it is open to the exchange of ideas, etc.

So, now I've belabored my points, spending all these words on what may constitute a total of ten pages in an otherwise very worthy book. So my advice, if these things bother you, skip those pages and continue on the other side. The book is well worthwhile, you'll learn a lot and you'll have a good time doing it. My suspicion is that for most of St. Blog's, you'll see yourselves in several different places throughout the book. Highly recommended despite my blathering. (8-9 out of 10)

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Your two hot buttons are ones I keenly share so that would prove irritating should I purchase it. Funny, I just finished a book that I mostly liked but that was marred by a few pages of authorial bias and it was the latter which stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb.

BTB, Bede (the modern one) argues on his website that Julius Caesar inadvertently destroyed the first Library of Alexandria, and that the second wasn't really destroyed at all but just dispersed.

Sounds like the book would push my buttons too. And I'm not even a Catholic.

I once pointed out, during a discussion of library privacy, that it used to be normal practice for all people checking out books to write down their names and addresses on the cards.

It was like a mention of Aslan's name, the way it divided the discussion into fear and horror, or love and remembrance....

Dear Maureen,

Yes, I could see that being in the love and remembrance school and remembering looking over the lists of names and getting a history of how often it was checked out and how long the interval between check-outs. It was beginning of love with various types of statistics.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 26, 2006 8:40 AM.

Retraction: Karen Valentine was the previous entry in this blog.

A Numerical Rating System--The Road is the next entry in this blog.

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