I spent from 1985-1997 working in the book industry. I started with Publisher's Book Outlet in Phoenix, the farthest flung bookstore for Southern based Anderson News Company. One the owners liked to vacation in Arizona so he opened a store there; I'm sure as a way to write off his vacation time on his taxes. I then worked for Bookman's Used Books based out of Tucson. I had a short stint as a remainder company rep with Roy P. Jenson out of New Jersey. I then ended my book career with Green Apple Books in San Francisco. I never made very much money, but I made enough to pay for my college, and of course, there was the discount on books. I was able to meet authors like Thomas McGuane, Mark Helprin, William Gibson, Paul Theroux, Salman Rushdie (He dodged in unannounced with bodyguards and signed our books and was gone before the pressure of his handshake faded from my hand.), Neal Stephenson, Ray Bradbury, James Lee Burke,etc. etc. etc. I also had the pleasure of working with the most intelligent, interesting people I've ever met.
You might be starting to think this review is about me. Well, this Lewis Buzbee character brought back a lot of great memories for me with this book. I was quickly convinced that this guy had a parallel existence to me. His stories about the book store life from bitching about RUDE customers in the back room to putting on awesome music after the store closes had me flushed with nostalgia. Working in a bookstore was the only job I've ever had where I really didn't want to go home. The employees hung out together after work, pooled money to buy food, and we talked A LOT about books.
Buzbee weaves the history of the book, the bookstore, and of reading around his own personal memories of working in the book industry. Nobody does this like Nicholas Basbanes, but for a quick thumbnail sketch he did an excellent job of hitting the highlights. I personal would have loved more stories from his time working in bookstores, but then just the few he shared reminded me of my own stories.
Buzbee did bring up a great point that most readers begin with reading "junk". We don't start out with Grapes of Wrath or Moby Dick and probably if we did, we would never have become dedicated readers. I went from reading Hardy Boy Mysteries to Louis L'Amour. My Dad rented ground from a guy named John Quanz who used to escape from his wife at a small house he owned on his family's original homestead. He would sit down there sipping whiskey and reading L'Amour, Luke Short, Ray Hogan, Elmore Leonard and any other western he could get his hands on. When he finished reading them he would drop them off with me. I still have a soft spot for a good western. My big break through moment that probably made me a confirmed reader was checking out Treasure Island from the library. I owe a real debt of gratitude to Robert Louis Stevenson for opening up the world of literature to me.
I would really like to hear what "junk" "gateway" books everyone read that started them on the road to being lifetime readers.