You don’t have to be a bookseller to enjoy Shaun Bythell’s The Diary of a Bookseller. It is a delightful, amusing daily diary that is just a pleasure to read. It is also a tale of the changing nature of bookseller in this digital age. Though his view of bookselling is sometimes rather cynical, it is cynicism touched with humour, especially in regard the oddities of customers and human beings in general.
Shaun bought the second hand bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland sixteen years ago. He had grown up near Wigtown and, home from university for Christmas, he dropped into The Bookshop to see if they had a copy of Leo Walmsley’s Three Fevers. In the course of conversation, the owner suggested he might like to buy the bookshop. He responded that he did not have any money, which earned the response ‘you don’t need money – what do you think banks are for.’
The diary was written in 2014, and starts each day with a note on how many online orders he had received overnight and how many of the orders he managed to find in his bookshelves. The numbers don’t always match. At the end of each day’s diary entries, he lists the number of customers and the takings for the day, excluding online sales. In between these two notes are passages of amusement, whimsy and often delightful insights into human behavior.
Food features in the book in different ways. Wigtown is Scotland’s National Booktown and there are more than 20 bookshops in the attractive seaside village in Dumfries and Galloway. Each year there is a Booktown Festival which attracts thousands of visitors to buy books and attend many events spread around the village. One night, while attending a festival some years ago, an exhausted author started rummaging around in Shaun’s bookshop looking for food. Shaun, who lives upstairs with Captain the cat, managed to rummage up some simple fare. The idea caught on, now the shop feeds some 200 authors and presenters engaged in the festival. Another angle on food is Nicky, a irregular worker in the book shop who brings in food for Shaun that she has found in the skip at the back of the local supermarket…
Inspired by this as a second-hand bookseller myself, I’m keeping a diary.
Reviewed by Lincoln Gould
The Diary of a Bookseller
by Shaun Bythell