The Diary of a Bookseller

Shaun Bythell

The Diary of a Bookseller
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The Diary of a Bookseller

Shaun Bythell

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.

Review

I was reluctant to make a start on this diary because I suspected it might, in the spirit of its ur-text, Black Books, engender short-tempered job dissatisfaction and make me feel like I was repeating my workday every time I opened it. Thankfully, however, it had the opposite effect: Diary of a Bookseller is a love letter to everyone’s favourite anti-vocation and to the communities we serve. Shaun Bythell’s diary does indeed detail the more humorous and exasperating episodes of his days spent inside The Book Shop in Scotland’s Wigtown, but it is also a portrait of his small town and its quirky community, both sharp-tongued and loving.

Bythell has been running the shop for 15 years and in that time has seen the fortunes of both rural Scotland and its bookshops shift and respond to pushes from both multinational corporations and a decline in traditional ways of life and rural work. Wigtown is Scotland’s ‘National Book Town’, a status which, Bythell observes, has reinvigorated its economy and brought together all sorts of people for whom farming and distilling no longer provide an income. There is Nicky, his only other permanent employee, whose love of dumpster-diving provides much amusement, a parade of house- and shop-guests, and a stream of odd customers and eccentric types trying to sell their book collections.

Bythell describes his buying trips around Scotland and the people he meets, and his hill-climbing, mountain-biking and fishing interludes in the beautiful Galloway, where he lives and works. These diary entries are an important reminder of work–life balance. They confirm to certain wage-slaves, including your reviewer, that such things are possible and important, even in a 24/7 economy choked by aggressively competitive business models like Amazon’s. Shaun’s reflections on these changes and their devastating outcomes for diversity and local knowledge are extremely relevant now. I urge you all to read this book. I laughed aloud on most pages of this book and highly recommend it to anyone who reads books and would like to be able to do so in the future.


George Delaney is a children’s and YA specialist at Readings Kids.

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