Go to Bridget Blogs Books for my thoughts on this book.
I go through phases of reading non-fiction, peppering those in amongst the SFF I'm mostly reading at the moment, and it's usually about a subject or place that interests me - in this case, I visited the location for The Soap Man a few years ago and had heard a little of the story but wanted to know more...
The book starts with a brief introduction to the life-story of William Lever, who would later become Lord Leverhulme, a self-made industrialist who made his money mostly from soap. His company would later go on to be part of the multi-national conglomerate Unilever. After setting up a model factory and village in the middle of a marsh in Lancashire, which he called Port Sunlight, Lever found himself with the opportunity of buying the entire Hebridean island of Lewis (and later its neighbour, Harris), the economy of which he believed he could revolutionise.
As long, of course, as the people of Lewis did what he wanted and, for a number of reasons, they were not inclined to do so. Lever had bought the island but he'd inherited a bunch of historic issues around land ownership, as previous lairds had spent money on deer and grouse while the island's inhabitants wanted land for crofting. All of this was happening around the time of World War I and the returning servicemen were even less likely to go along with what Lever was proposing.
All in all, I found The Soap Man an interesting example of that old adage about the irresistible force and the immovable object, with Lever as a man who was unable to see that he was half the author of his own problems with the people whose lives he wanted to up-end.
Though the name Lewis Douglas may not be familiar to most Americans today, in his time he was a figure of national prominence. The son of a mining magnate, Douglas grew up in comfort amidst the rough life of the mining towns of Arizona and Sonora before being sent east for an education at elite prep schools in New York and New Jersey. After service in the First World War, he returned home and entered politics, winning election to Congress in 1926. Quickly developing a reputation as a fiscal conservative, Douglas was asked by Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve as his first budget director and played a critical role in the development of the New Deal, but left the post less than two years into his administration due to his objections to the increasing amount of deficit spending. He returned to government during the Second World War, serving a vital role in the War Shipping Administration before concluding his career as the American ambassador to Great Britain in the late 1940s.
Covering such a varied life requires command of a formidable body of information. In this his biographers, Robert Paul Browder and Thomas G. Smith, prove more than equal to the task. Using a wide array of sources, they write about issues as diverse as the fight over Colorado River water, the budget debates of the early New Deal, and the efforts to tackle postwar reconstruction in Europe with equal authority. They portray Douglas as a charming and capable man who remained true to his principles, never deviating from his conservative beliefs even when they were out of step with the times. Such principles won him considerable admiration but stunted what started out as a promising political career, one which could have led to even greater political heights than the ones he achieved.
Well written and informative, Browder and Smith’s biography is a good book about an unjustly overlooked political figure. The product of meticulous research in a range of archives, it easily stands as the definitive work on Douglas’s life and career, one unlikely to be bettered in the future. With it, readers can gain a better appreciation of a capable and talented man, one whose political career ultimately was defined by principles to which he held fast regardless of the limits they imposed on his prospects.
In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Lewis Buzbee celebrates the unique experience of the bookstore-the smell and touch of books, the joy of getting lost in the deep canyons of shelves, and the silent community of readers. He shares his passion for books, which began with ordering through the Weekly Reader in grade school. Woven throughout is a fascinating historical account of the bookseller trade-from the great Alexandria library to Sylvia Beach's famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare & Co. Rich with anecdotes, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is the perfect choice for those who relish the enduring pleasures of spending an afternoon finding just the right book.
Bibliophiles, gather! Lovers of books about books, this one is for you! Lewis Buzzbee writes a book-centric memoir detailing his lifelong adoration of the printed word and some of his best memories working many years as a bookseller. Along the way, he also shares book-related historical tidbits regarding famous writers and bookshops around the world. For instance, there is mention of how books in the Middle Ages were often made with covers made of large slabs of wood, sometimes covered in leather. Pre-printing press books were expensive to create, so they were intentionally made heavy to deter thieves!
So, have your notepads ready as you read through this one, as you're likely to get some titles added to that ever-growing tbr of yours!
A great book will never go out of style -- books go with every outfit.
Buzbee's love of books started at the age of 15, with what became regular visits to his local B. Dalton bookstore and many pre-Scholastic Book Fair days spent with the Scholastic Weekly Reader. This was a magazine full of puzzles, articles, and of course, order forms for books. Instead of the book carts coming to the school, students could order and have the books sent to their homes. To me, this sounded less exciting than my memories of book fair days at school, but it's what he had at the time, I guess. During this portion, Buzbee also touches upon the "real reader" discussion (ie. what makes a person considered "well-read") and his teenage embarrassment at his mother's love of Gothic romances and his father's preference for men's magazines full of adventure stories & travel articles. Buzbee himself describes finding a love for classics early on, notably the works of John Steinbeck, with all the descriptions of oak and manzanita forests.
For those who are afflicted with book lust, those for whom reading us more than information or escape, the road to our passion is quite simple, paved merely by the presence of printed matter. It's a common story; fill in your own blanks: I was _____ years old when I happened upon a novel called ________, and within six months I had read every other book by the writer known as _________.
Love bookshop history? There's one great story in here regarding the famous Shakespeare & Company and how they came to publish James Joyce's doorstop of a novel, Ulysses. James Joyce estimated that roughly 1/3 of the book was written on typset proofs. And shop owner Sylvia Beach must have had the patience of a saint! She spent nearly a year just getting the manuscript right for the printing process, THEN Joyce insists that the covers had to be the EXACT colors of the Greek flag -- white font on blue paper, to suit the "Homeric nature of the novel". All this WHILE she was in the process of moving the shop's location! The shop -- in name only -- is still in operation today. Beach's store officially closed after WW2, but George Whitman (illegitimate grandson of poet Walt Whitman), with a collection of 1,000+ books, revived the location, originally calling it Le Mistral but later brought back the name Shakespeare & Co in honor of Beach. For those who love doing bookshop tours (crawls? lol) Buzbee includes a list of his personal favorite shops around the world (and explains why they're his favorites).
While this is the journey of one specific booklover, as well as a bit of a history of bookshops and bookmaking, this book, at times, speaks as an ode to book SELLING more than anything... not surprisingly, really, what with the author being a retired bookseller! For anyone curious, he breaks down the math behind those "closeout books" sales we readers love. Turns out, the author gets ZERO royalties from remainder-marked books. Buzbee writes of the fun of being able to get just the right book to the right person at the perfect time in that person's life...sometimes through orchestrated opportunity, other times via pure serendipity. He also argues that there should be a mandatory two years of retail service duty assigned to everyone and I can't say that I disagree! As he says, "sales for sturdy shoes would skyrocket!"
"The greatest benefit to my little plan would be in the creation of a truly kinder and gentler nation. Imagine that every American citizen had at one time worked in retail, and you might glimpse the possibility of a future in which all of us, participating in our national pastime, shopping, would have more patience. We would understand that items are sometimes out of stock and life does continue, that service without a smile is still service, that getting rid of your small change is not one of life's more laudable goals, nor is cashing out a speed trial. I'm going to let you in on a little secret about working retail. If you think we're grumpy, maybe even pissed off, and seem like we don't want to be there half the time -- you're right."
Oh, and the stories about shrink wrap pranks brought back memories for me!
Either way, it makes for fun reading when he shares which books proved to have the most impact on him throughout the course of his life. With the book's closing pages, Buzbee shares his stance on the whole topic of online vs brick & mortar bookshops / indy sellers vs superstores / ebooks vs print books.. and where he sees things going in the future.
Altogether, this book is worthy of at least one flip-through from any and all book lovers because Buzbee covers -- even if just a bit -- nearly every aspect of book culture you could want information on. Break this one out on a lazy Sunday or a rainy day in and curl up for some bibliophile bonding time!