For my entry this week I’ve decided to review a book I was given at Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed, The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell.
Shaun is the notoriously curmudgeonly owner of the largest second hand bookshop in the Scotland which goes by the wonderfully simple name of The Bookshop. Not The Wigtown Bookshop (which is where it is) or Bythells’ Books, no it’s just The Bookshop, direct and to the point just like its owner. His website name is similarly one to be envied by anyone in the trade www.the-bookshop.com. The book takes a very simple starting point “to write things down as they happened in the shop” and develops into an entertaining story of how a year passed for Shaun and his equally eccentric staff. It starts randomly on Wednesday 5th February 2014 and finishes on Wednesday 4th February 2015 (this entry is as far as I can remember the only time the year is specified).
As the owner of a specialist retail business in a small town myself the interactions with customers, or at least people who wander into the shop, move stock around and then leave without buying anything, that Shaun documents are all to familiar.
Tuesday 8th April
At 10:15am a woman walked in and roared, I am in my element! Books! then continued to shout questions at me for an hour whilst she waddled about the shop like a ‘stately goose’ as Gogol describes Sobakevich’s wife in Dead Souls. Predictably she didn’t buy anything.
Few things are more guaranteed than when somebody you have never seen before in the shop and expresses huge enthusiasm on entering is that they won’t buy anything.
Shaun also has a dislike, no that’s the wrong word, hatred would be better, of Kindles and this is referred to several times in the book even to the point of shooting one and mounting the remains on the wall in his shop like a hunting trophy.
This is totally understandable for somebody who makes their living selling books (well maybe not the shooting part) you can’t after all trade the contents of a Kindle but as somebody who loves books I also dislike the impersonal nature of reading on a screen. I found the photo on pinterest so don’t know who originally took it so I apologise in advance for unacknowledged copyright.
However I don’t want to give the idea that the book is just full of Shaun complaining, sometimes he is having a great time, although usually this is whilst he isn’t actually in the shop. Wigtown is Scotlands’ book town, based on the idea by Richard Booth in Hay on Wye, gathering bookshops together to make the place a specific destination for book lovers all over the world and The Bookshop was the first of what is now 13 independent retailers in the town. It is also home to a book festival at the end of September which is documented in the book. The Bookshop hosts ‘The Writers Retreat’ a place where guest speakers at the festival can escape to good food and drink and to chat amongst themselves and this leads to more stories being told. There is clearly a lot of effort put into the festival and I really ought to go, but maybe not this year as I suspect a lot of readers of this book have had the same idea.
Tuesday 25th March
Shortly after Andrew had left an extremely rude old woman demanded a copy of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s biography of Stalin. We had one in the Russia section which she brought to the counter. It was an unusually pristine copy in a mint jacket, clearly unread – original price £25. She asked how much it was, I pointed to the sticker that says £6.50. She pushed it away from her and turned; walking out muttering, ‘Too expensive’. I’m pretty sure she’ll be back so I re-priced it at £8.50.
I loved the book and can’t recommend it more, you don’t have to be a bookseller or even a shopkeeper of any sort to get a lot of pleasure from it.
By the way I checked and yes you can get it on Kindle, Shaun is presumably furious…