“The Diary of a Bookseller” – Shaun Bythell (3/5 ★)

Having had this book on my virtual “to read” list for a while, I have finally come across it by chance in a book shop in Lisbon the other day. What it ended up being was a light and quick little read, sparkled with a bit of humour here & there, while telling the story of what it is like to be the owner of a second-hand book shop on a daily basis. I have definitely got to say though that I was a bit disappointed by it, somehow I would have expected more humour and less repetitiveness.

What I personally enjoyed and got the most out of it was getting a better understanding of what a bookseller’s life is like, taking investigative steps towards my goal of one day opening my own café/bookshop. This literally happens on a day to day basis, since the book consists of daily diary entries of Shaun, the bookseller. Some little insights are given into the business of book trade in general, how books are valued and most importantly, what life looks like for book shops in the modern days of Amazon and e-books. If you’re someone who enjoys reading and likes bookshops but you’re still ordering on Amazon – read. this. book. – in order to understand why it matters where you invest your money.

“While Amazon appears to benefit consumers, there is an unseen mass of people who suffer thanks to the punitive conditions which it imposes on sellers – authors have seen their incomes plummet over the past ten years, publishers too, which means that they can no longer take risks with unknown authors, and now there is no middleman. […] This puts the squeeze not only on independent bookshops but also on publishers, authors, unless authors and publishers unite and stand firm against Amazon, the industry will face devastation.” (p. 111)

“Again I feel consumed with the questionable rationale of buying from a distributor when Amazon is supplying the same titles cheaper than I can buy them from the publisher. I suspect that things can’t continue like this much longer. ” (p. 194)

” ‘The Tinkler Gypsies’ is a book written by a lawyer from Newton Stewart called Andrew McCormick in 1906. […] For a while copies would quickly sell for over £100 and were snapped up, but I see that it is now available as an e-book, which means that values have probably crashed.” (p. 227)

If the goal was to illustrate how basic and mundane the work of a bookseller is, the book definitely did an outstanding job at it! It also felt that not that much work went into the process of editing it, besides keeping a diary for a year. The events that you basically continuously read about are:
– How incompetent the bookseller’s colleagues are;
– The bookseller’s girlfriend constantly going between Wigtown & London;
– A friend, Eliot, coming to the bookseller’s house & constantly making a mess when staying;
– Sandy, one of the customers coming in to drop off self-made walking sticks;
– Quite uneventful book purchasing trips to private people’s homes;
– Packaging books to be sent out for the monthly Random Book Club of the shop.
It was fun to read about the first month, a bit less entertaining the second and it became annoying by the third month in.

To give you an insight on the parts where I found myself chuckling along:

“Nicky arrived at 9.13 a.m., wearing a black Canadian ski suit that she bought in the charity shop in Port William for £5. This is her standard uniform between the months of November and April. It is a padded onesie, designed for skiing, and it makes her look like the lost Teletubby. During this period she emits a constant whine about the temperature of the shop, which is, admittedly, on the chilly side.” (p. 8)

“As he was leaving, Norrie and Nicky had a heated discussion about something that I caught the tail end of. It appeared to be about evolution. This is a favourite topic of Nicky’s, and it’s not uncommon to find copies of ‘On the Origin of Species’ in the fiction section, put there by her. I retaliate by putting copies of the Bible (which she considers history) in among the novels.” (p. 9)

“At about 10 a.m. Nicky and I were gossiping about the perils of lending things to people when we were interrupted by a customer who asked if we had a ‘rest room’. Blank looks were exchanged for some time before Nicky broke the silence, saying, ‘There’s a comfy seat by the fire if you need a rest.’ For moments like this, Nicky’s value is beyond measure.” (p. 115)

“A woman spent about ten minutes looking around the shop, then told me that she was a retired librarian. I suspect she thought that this was some sort of a bond between us. Not so. On the whole, booksellers dislike librarians. To realise a good price for a book, it has to be in decent condition, and there is nothing librarians like more than taking a perfectly good book and covering it with stamps and stickers before – and with no sense of irony – putting a plastic sleeve over the dust jacket to protect it from the public.” (p. 232)

“I offered her [Nicky, one of the shop’s employees] a bottle of Corncrake Ale and she told me that she doesn’t like any beer that has a bird’s name in it. This is the kind of logic that she applies to all of her decision-making.” (p. 260)

What I highly suggest if you end up reading this book, is searching for some visuals to get a better understanding of its setting in a Scottish little town at the seaside. I have come across videos of Shaun – the bookseller, Nicky – his long term colleague (who seems to be really charming, so the way she was described in the book might have been a bit exaggerated 😀 ), the Book Shop Band, the yearly Book Festival & also Shaun’s girlfriend, whose real name is Jessica Fox and who wrote a book herself on her move from the US to Scotland, falling in love with a Scottish bookseller (“Three Things You Should Know About Rockets”).

To sum up my reading experience – I got some little laughs & quite a few book suggestions out of it, as well as even being tempted to get the second book in the series written by Shaun Bythell, “Confessions of a Bookseller”. I don’t even know why, since I have given this one an only average rating but there’s just something about the concept of reading a book about a bookshop. This is also its downside though, that the idea of it is actually better than the book itself. Realising that was the moment when I put that book back on the bookshelf and spared myself an 18€ purchase 😀

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

Edition: ISBN 978-1-78125-863-7
Profile Books, 2018

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