Saturday, May 12, 2007



“I’m promiscuous when it comes to bookstores.” is the first sentence of one chapter of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, and that sentence describes me, and no doubt thousands of other incurable readers. This is a wonderful little book, a memoir of Buzbee’s life as a reader, and of his career in the independent book trade; and a fascinating history of bookshops, publishing and the book itself, from ancient times up to the present day with online book selling and downloadable e-books.

It is beautifully produced, a small hardback, printed on good paper in a comfortable-to-read typeface (something that matters more and more to me as I get older and my eyes take the strain). It is full of snippets of information one of which is that if you start reading a book a week from the age of five, and continue doing so until you are 80, you will only have read a total of 3900 books. As there are close to 200,000 new books published each year in the UK alone, even a voracious reader will be scarcely scratching the surface.

When he writes about browsing bookstores on holidays, on business trips, in airports and anywhere else he goes, I kept thinking “ but that’s me! that’s me!”. My daughter used to dread going on shopping trips with me, as if we passed a bookshop I would gravitate towards it as though pulled by a magnet whilst she tried to tug me away; and if I crossed the threshold the rest of the shopping trip would be lost.

One of the quotes Buzbee gives in the book is from Italo Calvino’s book “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller” which perfectly sums up how many books there are for the committed reader to choose from in a good bookshop:

Books You Haven’t Read…the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made for Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written…the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered…the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too.

This is a book that all bibliomaniacs would enjoy; and I can't think of a better gift to give a book loving friend.

Rated 4.5*

In theory the United Nations is a good idea, in practice it just lurches from one failing initiative to another. A talking shop that has achieved very little over the years, it has soaked up squillions of dollars from all the member countries and acted as a soap-box for tin-pot dictators of banana republics to strut their stuff.

Today I learnt that the UN Committee on Sustainable Development is to be chaired by Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister Francis Nheme.
Says everything there is to say about what is wrong with the UN doesn’t it?

Zimbabwe! god in heaven, what is the UN thinking of? Certainly not sustainable development. Zimbabwe is now in such a parlous state that it has started rationing electricity, inflation is over 2000% and people are starving. What do they know of sustainable development ?? – nothing, zip, zero; what the Zimbabwean government (aka Robert Mugabe and henchmen) do know is how to bring a wealthy country with everything going for it to its knees. Maybe that is the message the new Chairperson of the UN Committee is keen to promulgate. The UN is now a complete joke. Let’s stop supporting it until it grows up and gets its head straight.


Of all the recipes I have been asked for over the years, this one has been consistantly in the top five. Strange really as it is for a "side" dish to accompany other things, and it is a vegetable that is not always popular. However even very, very picky four year olds who normally refuse to let anything green cross their lips have been known to eat second helpings of this. It freezes well, which is also a bonus. To turn it into a quick supper or lunch dish, take a shallow gratin dish of this puree, heat it in the oven or microwave, and then make a couple of depressions in it with a spoon, break an egg into each depression before returning the dish to the oven and bake until the egg is cooked.


Serves 6

1 kg broccoli (approx 4 ‘heads’), trimmed and cut into florets, including stems.
¾ cup crème fraiche
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan
A generous grating of nutmeg – equal to ½ teaspoon
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste

Prepare the broccoli, and then drop into a large pan of boiling salted water. Cook until just tender, approx 8 minutes. Drain well.
Transfer the broccoli to a food processor. Add the crème fraiche, and pureè thoroughly.

Pre-heat oven to 180°C.

Transfer the broccoli pureè into a bowl and stir in the Parmesan, nutmeg, pepper and salt to taste. Mix well.
Mound the pureè in an ovenproof serving dish, dot with butter and bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes until steaming hot.

You can prepare this all in advance until the point where it goes in the oven, then you can either freeze it, or just cover with cling-film and pop it in the fridge until you are ready to bake it.


Ash said...

I agree entirely about the UN thing. The much-maligned 'Western' nations should remove their funding from the UN and allow the 'former colonial states' to run it alone.

Did you watch the CNN thing about this? I watched and it made me feel unwell. said...

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop has gone on my wishlist thanks, had never heard of it and I love these kind of bibliophile books!

Bybee said...

Buzbee -Yes, definitely
Broccoli - Hmmm, maybe

herschelian said...

Ash - no I never saw the CNN thing, probably lucky as I already have high blood pressure and watching it would probably have made me blow a gasket! I've enjoyed your blog, and I think The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop will be just your cup of tea!

bybee; Trust me, even if you are a broccoli sceptic you will love this - give it a go! And the Buzbee is a great book that will become a keeper ;-)

Jeanne said...

I love coming here - we just agree on everything!! LOL!

The book once again sounds marvellous. I actually have a colleague that would love it. He is an English major originally and is intimidatingly well-read - always makes me feel like a kid butting into the grown-ups cinversation ;-) I'm afraid I have squandered much of my time reading books that didn't have to be read... Even if I reach mt threescore and ten, I will never make my 3900 allocation. Oh well.

The UN thing totally blew me away when I read about it on This Is Zimbabwe. I'm still trying to get clarity on exactly who voted for them - other African nations? Is this just another case of African nations standing together against the West at any cost? What a slap in the face to ordinary Zimbabweans!

And the broccoli things sounds awesome - I love broccoli anyway and this sounds like a really novel way to enjoy it. Thanks :)

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RJ said...

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RJ xx