Reading the Room: A Bookseller's Tale

Reading the Room: A Bookseller's Tale

“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

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

The incredible story of one of the greatest booksellers to ever live. …Like Yamazaki, I come from a non-traditional background as a reader. City Lights was a refuge and lightning rod for me as a bookstore, and Paul is a crucial part of that storied place which will always hold a place in my heart—and now Paul and his book will as well.
—Tommy Orange, author of There There and Wandering Stars

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

Description: 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, 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 50 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.

Read an excerpt from the book in the Paris Review or listen to NRP's Scott Simon's delightful reading of it. Check out the full US Tour schedule here and find an event in your city!

Publication Date: 
April 17, 2024

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