I needed something to read after completing Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, but despite owning over 900 books and a library card, I couldn’t think of single book to read. Then I remembered that I had an ARC of Shaun Bythell’s The Diary of a Bookseller and that its publication date for the U.S. was fast approaching — September 4th. Feeling like I had no other choice, I decided to finally give Bythell’s diary a read.
Nonfiction – autobio, humor
September 2018 (2017 in U.K.)
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. (Goodreads)
This was surprisingly enjoyable. It’s not what I expected of a book that is the diary of a bookseller. I expected the day-to-day management of a store to be boring to read about, and I guess it would have been if not for Bythell’s dry humor.
Bythell begins his diary in early February 2014 and maintains it daily for a year. He writes about why he bought the store, what he does to maintain it and attract business, and the difficulties he faces as the publishing industry changes and is disrupted by Amazon and its Kindles. (He once shot a Kindle after a frustrating shift at work and displayed it in his store.) He writes about how bookselling has changed, the antics of the customers who visit his shop as well as his co-workers who help him run it. As he shares all this in his diary, we get a sense of how deeply he cares for the shop and loves the business he works in and the people he works with, though he does try to maintain the demeanor of a crotchety bookseller. He quickly grew on me and pretty soon after I started reading I found it hard to part from the book for long.
I forgot that I was reading a diary. Sometimes I slipped into thinking that I was reading a novel because of the humor, but most times, because of the time of day when I read the book, I felt as if I was visiting The Bookshop. As soon as work was done, I’d grab Bythell’s book and start reading as I walked to catch my bus. It made me feel as if I was back to my old routine before I switched jobs. Back then, I’d visit a local independent bookstore and comic book shop almost every day after leaving work. It’s something I’ve missed doing and though The Diary of the Bookseller made me feel as if I was once again doing that, it also filled me with a strong nostalgia for the times I did.
When I read the epilogue and completed the book, I began to miss the shop and the people I’d read about. I felt as if I was leaving Scotland after spending a week working at Bythell’s shop and will never again observe the steady day to day of The Bookshop, packing books for the Random Book Club and visiting Wilma at the post office, seeing Mr. Deacon stopping by every now and then to pick up a book, and hanging out with Nicky and Shaun himself.
I enjoyed visiting The Bookshop. Bythell’s writing and humor and the people he writes about, especially Nicky, transported me to Scotland and made me feel as if I visited the shop every time I picked up the book. It makes me now want to visit Wigtown, Scotland, to see and experience The Bookshop for real.
Overall: ★★★★☆ ½
I highly recommend it.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I think it’s worth the purchase if you enjoy reading books about books or the book business. Bythell also drops some history on bookselling and the book business in it.
This is the second book I’ve read this year that makes me want to go visit Scotland. I think this is a sign. Hmm…
Check out this video of Bythell and his crew’s bookish remix of Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” I think it’s decent and I like the little dance at the end. It also gives you a look at the shop.