The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Review published on October 11, 2017.

For real booklovers, the idea of working in a bookshop seems like the perfect vocation, but in reality it’s far from the idyll of sitting in front of a roaring fire reading books all day and having engaging literary conversations with your patrons, at least for Shaun Bythell, the owner of Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop, the helpfully named The Book Shop, in Wigtown.

For a year from February 2014 to February 2015, Shaun kept a diary of life as a bookseller, charting his frustrations with Amazon and the digital book marketplace, his hatred of the Kindle, his many and varied book acquisitions, and the curious characters that frequent his shop, all in his self-confessedly misanthropic style, and the result is a wonderfully amusing and eye-opening insight into the realities of running a second-hand bookshop in today’s digital world.

It was intriguing to read about the ways books come into the shop’s possession, most often through individuals selling off their own or their relatives’ collections, and the many duds and occasional treasures to be found. As well as the fascinating details concerning the practicalities of book dealing, and some of the high- (and mostly low-) lights of book acquisitioning, what really jumps from these pages are the people themselves. The customers who try to wangle a bargain on an already bargain-priced book, the regulars who treat the bookshop like their home, and of course the staff who keep the bookshop going, not least of all Shaun’s former right-hand woman, Nicky. Their interplay reads like a comedic double act, as Shaun tries to instil some order and meaning into the place and Nicky goes on her merry way, wilfully ignoring him.

The Book Shop itself sounds like a wondrous Aladdin’s Cave, with over 100,000 books in stock and a monthly readers’ club that sends out a book each month to subscribers that ‘could be anything from a rare first edition to a history of underwear’. It is easy to forget about these weird and wonderful book havens in a time of identikit national stores and online bargain-basement bookselling, but reading the book really reminds you of the importance of these last bastions of our rich and diverse literary history and the people that keep these places alive. I’m sure many readers will be inspired to visit the bookshop on the back of reading this book, but whether they go to make a purchase or simply end up on the shop’s notorious Facebook page, we’ll have to wait and see.

Jade Craddock 5/5

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
Profile Books 9781781258620 hbk Sep 2017

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