As happens most of the time, I had some expectations when I started to read this book – I was expecting an engaging story to develop throughout the daily life of a bookseller. I don’t know, something like the film “Notting Hill” :-). However, it’s a work of non-fiction and I only realised this after having read the first few pages.
Had I not had any such expectations, I’d have probably enjoyed it more. So, it’s not the author that disappoints, rather, it’s just that my expectations were different from what the book actually is.
It is exactly what the title says it is – journal entries by an owner (the author himself) of a real existing bookshop (his). This meant, at least for me, that sometimes it was repetitive, but after all, this is what happens in real life, isn’t it?
A factor that made me immediately connect with this book was that it is based in Scotland, a beautiful and welcoming country of which I have very fond memories.
The writing style is laconic with dry humour – the author’s honesty is what I loved more about this book. Here is an example:
A customer started rummaging through a box of unpriced books and found a Penguin edition of The Day of the Triffids, priced in pencil at 12p (presumably from a charity shop in the 1970s). When I told her that our price would be £1.50, she decided that was “outrageous” and that if that was the case she’d “just get it from the library”. I have a feeling that “outraged” may well be her factory setting.
This, and similar episodes, made me smile nostalgically as they reminded me of the frustrations that my late grandfather and his son, my uncle, who had been shopkeepers for their entire lives, often experienced when dealing with some of their customers.
I learned about the struggles that small business owners face nowadays and I reflected on the challenges that online shopping and big companies, such as Amazon, put them through.
I’d say that if you love books, have the secret dream of opening a bookshop and selling them, and perhaps you fantasize about entertaining interesting discussions with your customers, you should really read this book.
It was an entertaining read but not juicy enough to keep me up late at night. Overall, I had positive feelings and some giggles when reading it, so I’m pleased I came across it.
Title: The Diary of a Bookseller
Author: Shaun Bythell
Year first published: 2017
Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown – Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea. A book-lover’s paradise? Well, almost…
In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky. He takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye.