Just before Christmas, I decided to read Shaun Bythell’s 2017 memoir The Diary Of A Bookseller. This was on a bit of whim, as I don’t often read non-fiction, but the book caught my eye after a customer returned it. This is one of the perks of working in libraries – there is never any shortage of books to read. However, it also means that titles are constantly being added to my already enormous ‘to-be-read’ pile. But that’s a different story…
Shaun Bythell owns ‘The Bookshop’ in Wigtown, Scotland’s biggest second hand book store. The concept of the book is simple: he has set out to detail the day-to-day runnings of the store, in a diary like format that is incredibly readable. Each day starts with a summary of the number of books ordered and found online and ends with the total number of customers and the till total at day’s end. I enjoy figures and statistics, so I found this a fascinating insight into the realities of actually running a bookstore.
His acerbic tone and no-nonsense approach makes for a colourful read, as Bythell holds no punches when he is describing the ridiculous and often downright rude behaviour of customers in the shop. This tone is also prevalent on his Facebook page, which makes for some interesting further reading. I am sure anyone who has worked in retail or customer service roles can relate to his frustrations. However, most of Bythell’s anger is aimed squarely at big business, particularly Amazon. His feelings are made abundantly clear after he shot an Amazon Kindle and mounted it to the wall of the shop. And after reading some of his experiences with Amazon, I can completely understand his frustrations.
I also found it interesting to learn about Wigtown, a small rural town near Galloway that has been revived in recent years by an abundance of bookstores and the creation of the Wigtown Book Festival. Bythell’s store runs a writer’s retreat during the festival, where visiting writers and tourists can rent a room in the flat Bythell owns above the shop. He has also developed a scheme where aspiring bookstore owners can test-run what it is like to run a bookstore.
He details his visits to auctions and old houses, sifting through book collections of the deceased and the stock of closing libraries and museums. This was an aspect I hadn’t fully considered when thinking about the second hand book trade and I found this a fascinating insight. Each month (effectively a chapter) starts with a quote from George Orwell about bookselling back in the 1930s, with Bythell then discussing the differences and similarities between bookselling then and bookselling now.
Between his sarcastic and cynical views on rude customers, odd requests and quirky members of staff, it is clear that Bythell loves what he does and is obviously passionate about physical books and reading, in whatever form this comes. This is refreshing and I really enjoyed reading this memoir. As the book moves on, you find yourself becoming attached to the host of characters who keep cropping up and I found it an incredibly entertaining read.
Photography: Matthew Jones
My music choice for the week is ‘Bad Liar’ by Selena Gomez. I really enjoyed the track and am looking forward to her next album (hopefully out this year!). Enjoy. 🙂