Reading the Room: A Bookseller's Tale (Paperback)

Reading the Room: A Bookseller's Tale By Paul Yamazaki, Rick Simonson (Foreword by) Cover Image

Reading the Room: A Bookseller's Tale (Paperback)

By Paul Yamazaki, Rick Simonson (Foreword by)


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Reading the Room is a precious artifact, a rare transmission from a truly great mind. If you’re a bookseller, pull up a chair and learn from a master; if you’re a reader, you’ll walk away with an entirely new appreciation for your local indie.”
— Vanessa Martini, Green Apple Books & Music, San Francisco, CA

Reading the Room is Paul Yamazaki's love letter to the work of bookselling and an engaged life of the mind.

Over twenty-four hours, Paul Yamazaki leads us through the stacks of storied City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco; the care and prowess of his approach to book buying; his upbringing in a Japanese American family in Southern California and moving to San Francisco at the height of revolutionary foment; working with legendary figures in the book publishing industry like Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Sonny Mehta, and others; and his vision for the future of bookselling. Navigating building trust with readers and nurturing relationships across the literary industry, Yamazaki testifies to the value of generosity, sharing knowledge, and dialogue in a life devoted to books.
Paul Yamazaki has been the principal buyer at City Lights Booksellers, the legendary San Francisco bookstore and publisher founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin, for more than fifty years. A champion for national and global literature, writers, publishers, and independent bookstores, Yamazaki was the recipient of the National Book Foundation's 2023 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. He has mentored generations of booksellers across America.

Rick Simonson has worked at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Company, one of the US’s leading independent bookstores, since 1976. He is Elliott Bay's senior buyer and founded their internationally renowned author reading program forty years ago. He presently serves on the governing boards of Copper Canyon Press, the University of Washington Press, and UNESCO Seattle City of Literature.
Product Details ISBN: 9781958846698
ISBN-10: 1958846694
Publisher: Ode Books
Publication Date: May 8th, 2024
Pages: 100
Language: English
"All booksellers are the unsung heroes of American literature, but Paul Yamazaki is a superhero."
— Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad, Harlem Shuffle, and Crook Manifesto

"A wry, stirring, profoundly uplifting ode to bookselling––complete with riffs on capitalism, San Francisco, jazz, even the meaning of life––from one of the underappreciated literary titans of our time."
— Hua Hsu, author of Stay True: A Memoir

"Paul Yamazaki is one of the greatest and most influential readers in the world. [This volume] reminds us that reading is an act of imagination, defiance, optimism and love. Paul brings the whole of his being to the world of books. May we all learn to do the same."
— Katie Kitamura, author of Intimacies and A Separation

"There’s a famous sign in the basement of City Lights that says: “I am the door.” Paul Yamazaki has been the door for generations of readers and writers. He’s a portal, not just into a world of books, but into a way of thinking about culture, of human communication and community. We’re lucky to have him."
— Hari Kunzru, author of Red Pill and White Tears

"I love this little book…It's a love story to books and City Lights…Browsing is everything, and curating [City Lights’] space—its magic, possibility, and freedom––is Paul’s unique gift and genius." 
— Karen Tei Yamashita, author of I Hotel and Tropic of Orange:

"This transcript of a two-day conversation with Paul Yamazaki is the Tao of Bookselling. One comes to the book expecting shoptalk, and finds instead a vision of the bookstore as a spiritual, intellectual, and political microcosm of the universe. How many of us are as wise as Paul about what we do, and can see the world in it?"
— Eliot Weinberger, author of An Elemental Thing and The Life of Tu Fu

"If you love a bookstore, it’s whether you know it or not because you love a book buyer…and in the book world no book buyer is more legendary than Paul Yamazaki of City Lights. He has made the job into an art, an ethic, an adventure, and not infrequently an insurrectionary act."
— Rebecca Solnit, author of Recollections of My Nonexistence and A Field Guide to Getting Lost

"Reading the Room is a book that elevates, refreshes and restores my faith in words: it makes me excited again at the potential of being a writer. I am profoundly grateful that this book exists in the world, that its author is a bookseller, that he drinks whisky with writers in a bar across the street, and that his deep generosity and wisdom, that have changed so many lives and quietly shaped resisted mainstream culture while shaping something truly radical for decades, are now contained here. This book is a gem, and one I will return to again and again."
— Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young, and Aftermath

"Reading the Room distills one thousand gin-soaked nights with Paul into a single energizing shot of a book that captures all of the passion, curiosity, and brilliance that he has taken from his life experiences and brought to City Lights and to the craft of bookselling. This little gem is all Paul––pure joy."
— Melinda Powers, Bookshop Santa Cruz

"Reading the Room is a precious artifact that functions as a rare transmission from a truly great mind. Buying is perhaps the aspect of bookselling that the public encounters the most but thinks about the least, and to hear Paul speak about his methods and how he arrived at them is a genuine pleasure. If you're a bookseller, pull up a chair awhile and learn from the master; if you're a reader, know you'll walk away from Reading the Room with an entirely new appreciation for your local independent. Either way, what a joy!"
— Vanessa Martini, Green Apple Books

"Paul’s commitment to the very deep waters of our literary life has made a difference…His championing and passion for new and diverse voices and for small and independent presses set an early example for booksellers everywhere. He demonstrated that these voices and presses would find their readers when given a chance [and] he continues to be a catalyst for transformational change today and every single laydown Tuesday…He’s a friend and a mentor to young and old."
— Mitchell Kaplan, Books & Books

"As well and long as I’ve known Paul––forty years and counting––this book holds many surprises…Reading the Room is Paul on the page, his candor, and all his delight and wonder. There are places where you can even hear his laugh."
— Rick Simonson, Elliot Bay Book Company (excerpt from foreword)

"Paul Yamazaki has raised up generations of booksellers. He teaches by example, including the lesson that discernment and commitment need not compromise kindness and generosity. In Paul’s peaceable kingdom, engagement, listening, and curiosity are the marks of greatness, and enthusiasm the work. We are lucky to live in the time of Yamazaki."
— Jeff Deutsch, Seminary Co-op Bookstores

"This book demystifies the aura of what makes great bookstores and great booksellers. It goes deep to the core: individual and communal joy, curiosity, enthusiasm––TRYING."
— Stéphanie d’Hubert, Seminary Co-op Bookstores

"Paul Yamazaki, one of the most generous and genuinely curious people I have ever had the good fortune of spending time with, has given us a gift with Reading the Room. In this characteristically unpretentious and generous volume, a great bookseller has opened wide the doors to what it means to sell, write, and read books in the 21st century. It's a gift."
— Stephen Sparks, Point Reyes Books

"Paul Yamazaki is a poet and a philosopher of bookselling, on top of being a fabulous storyteller. If you want to know why buying and selling books is far more than transactional or why City Lights is possibly the greatest American bookstore, you can find your answer in Reading the Room."
— Aleksandar Hemon, author of The World and All That It Holds and The Lazarus Project