Book Review: The Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_diary_of_a_booksellerYou 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
Profile Books
ISBN: 9781781258820




Book Review: Adventures in Stationery, by James Ward

Available in bookstores nationwide.

I learned of this book at the Christmas Roadshow runimage-adventures-in-stationery-a-journey-through-your-pencil-case-james-ward-main by Allen & Unwin back in August. I am a great lover of stationery, so I knew immediately that this was a book for me – or perhaps it was just Melanie doing her job extremely well!

This is the most fascinating history of stuff I have read in a long time. James Ward expertly weaves for us the tales and the history of stationery, making what could have been a very shallow book into a meaningful work of social and industrial history. The book covers the brilliant inventors, both those who dedicated their life to invention to a purpose, and those who accidentally solved a long-standing problem and built careers and companies on this happy accident.

The subtitle ‘A journey through your pencil case’ is apt, for this book covers writing implements and instruments like pen and paper (and moleskine notebooks), office tools like paper clips (they have a surprisingly rich history), ways of removing writing, staplers – including the notorious Swingline in Office Space, and neon-coloured implements like post-it notes and highlighters. I thought of a few more things that could have been included – rubber bands and bulldog clips being two of them – but really, if every item was to be included, the book may never have ended. Perhaps I should check out his blog.

James Ward is known in the UK as the man who curates the Boring Conference. His writing is light enough to be entertaining, persuasive enough for you to believe his tall tales, and self-effacing enough to mark him most definitely as a Brit.

My favourite invention tale in this book was that of not-terribly-good typist Bette Nesmith Graham, inventor of ‘Liquid Paper,’ in 1951. Demand for this handy tool for not-terribly-good typists (and writers) grew to 25 million bottles a year by 1975, and she sold it in 1979 to the Gilette Corporation for $47.5 million dollars. The kicker was that her son Mike Nesmith – who was a member of The Monkees – later used his inheritance from his mother’s business savvy, to conceive of ‘PopClips’, paving the way for MTV.

A wonderful book of tales tall and short, and one I have to recommend to everybody who knows a stationery fan like myself, or just anybody with an interest in the way history pushes up ideas people need, just as they are required.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Adventures in Stationery: A journey through your pencil case
by James Ward
Published by Profile Books Ltd
ISBN 9781846686153