Thursday, 20 December 2018

Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

If you have ever watched the television comedy series Black Books, real-life bookseller Shaun Bythell brings to mind Dylan Moran’s grouchy misanthropic book store owner. The Book Shop in Wigtown is in the southwest of Scotland and holds 100 000 mostly second-hand books spread over a mile of shelving. The town (population 1000) has reinvented itself as Scotland’s National Book Town and boasts 11 second-hand book shops and an annual book festival.

The Diary of a Bookseller describes one year in the life of the shop, including Blythell’s frequent foraging in private libraries in old estates, and tolerating his eccentric worker Nicky's weekly rescued food offerings from supermarket skips. There is a certain cosiness to the meandering day to day life and the seasonal changes.

Bythell includes lots of amusing descriptions of some of his customers, and wry observations about their behaviour: ‘ appears as though someone has loaded his clothes into a cannon and fired them at him’ or ‘It’s a book shop not a rummage sale for goodness’ sake!’.

Bythell's passion for books is equaled by his disdain for the general 'but I can get it cheaper online' public and the online stores. His frustration at the mighty retail giant Amazon drives him to shoot a Kindle ereader, and then mount it on his shop wall akin to a trophy head. He has had to adapt to online book sales despite the frustration of keeping his sales up or losing his ‘ranking’ even when the technological issues are not his fault. Some of the obscure titles people buy from him online border on the farcical, such as Collectible Spoons of the 3rd Reich or Essential Foreign Swear Words.

The Book Shop is set in an amazing Georgian building, and it is well worth looking up photographs online of the store and the beautiful surrounding area; or if you are a total nerd like me, following the Book Shop on Facebook.

If you like books about books, with a dash of mild amusement, put The Diary of a Bookseller on your summer reading list.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link: Diary of a Book Seller

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