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Review: The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell


The Diary of a Bookseller


Is there anything better than a book about books? I’m truly beginning to think not. I came across The Diary of a Bookseller, as I often do, on Twitter. I can’t remember who tweeted about it, but as soon as I saw the cover, and read the brilliantly bookish blurb, I was sold.

I often fantasize about owning a bookshop; it is no doubt a common dream for someone who loves books as much as I do. But I’m also aware that the notion of running a bookshop that I have in my head, is very different from the reality. In the alternative reality to my life down under, where I live in Bondi’s year-round balmy temperatures and lead a life full of barbecues and beach days and boat trips – I daydream of a more simple life on the Cornish coast; one in which I have a coastal cottage with a ragged arm chair and run a quaint village bookshop with endless shelves of well worn books and drink copious cups of tea from a generous sized mug. I imagine my days being filled with books and reading and the type of customers that are kindred spirits and would soon become life-long friends as we bond over our mutual love for literature.

Alas, said fantasy is of course different to the reality of what bookselling is really like, and the contrast is shown with wit and hilarity in Shaun Bythell’s brilliant memoir – The Diary of a Bookseller.

A year in the life of a bookseller, The Diary of A Bookseller is a diarised account of Bythell’s day to day life as owner and chief operator of The Bookshop in Wigtown, from the banal and the brilliant to the weird and wonderful. He bemoans the droves of customers that browse without buying, and those that expect hefty discounts on their purchases – something I naively never knew happened. We’re given an intimate insight into the behind the scenes of bookselling, from book dealing to bargaining with a colourful cast of customers, and while much of the content could be viewed as bleak – indeed bookselling is no easy feat – Bythell’s dry humour and brilliant writing makes it a witty and wonderful read. From stories of shooting a kindle to observing both unruly staff and locals that frequent the shop, to sporadic calls with a Welsh lady – always disappointed with the shop’s stock – who later turns out to be a man, I became one of those highly annoying readers, stopping every few pages or so to read laugh-out-loud accounts to my parents.

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The type of book that one wants to devour; but also that one wants to savour, it is a brilliant tale for anyone with an interest in books, or for someone simply after a dry and droll page turner. It, too, is an important reminder of our responsibility as readers to support independent bookshops. I’m very lucky to get sent more free books than I could ever hope to get through to review on this site. However, I too, spend an inordinate amount of money on books, only ever give books as presents – regardless of who said present is for – and rarely leave a bookshop empty handed.

To end, a quote from Desiderius Eramus: “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” – a notion we should all, perhaps, put more into practise.

About Shaun Blythell, author of The Diary of a Bookseller:

Shaun Bythell runs The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town. The Diary of a Bookseller is his first book.

About The Diary of a Bookseller:

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.

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