Sent to me by Profile Books in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: 28/09/17
Publisher: Profile Books
Format: Hardback, 320pp
Summed up in a word: Immersive
Books about books (or in this case bookshops) are my absolute favourite. I could read them day-in-day-out because they not only inspire, expand and encourage but they reinforce our passions for the written word. When I saw The Diary Of A Bookseller I knew I had to drop everything and read it. I was not disappointed! Shaun Bythell picks up where Jen Campbell left off in her superb book The Bookshop Book. This is a must read for all book lovers (they both are!) and I suggest you leave here and pick up a copy immediately.
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.
“The entire ground floor is now devoted to books, and at the last count there were about 100,000 of them. In the past fifteen years we have replaced every shelf and done considerable work, both structural and cosmetic. Customers often refer to it as ‘an Aladdin’s cave’ or ‘a labyrinth’. I removed the internal doors in the shop to encourage customers to explore more, but this, and the fact that it is a huge, old house with inadequate heating, often lead to unflattering comments about the temperature from customers.” Shaun Bythell p20
In The Diary Of A Bookseller we step into the shoes of Shaun Bythell for just over a year while he strives to run The Bookshop and keep the passion for books alight. Shared on a month by month basis Shaun opens up to the reader, via diary entries, about the glorious highs and the frustrating lows of running a modern day book store. Shaun is an interesting human being! Touches of Bernard Black and Jen Campbell mixed with his own fascinating take on life; Shaun runs us through all the pitfalls and meaningful moments he has experienced in the incredibly bookish Wigtown. Jen Campbell wrote The Bookshop Book (referenced a few times in this book and I highly recommend) and Shaun has taken her idea and focused it on one solitary location, his own The Bookshop. This is an immersive reading experience and a cracking slice of life piece on the culture of bookshops.
The Diary Of A Bookseller is a bold, honest and apt account of running a second hand bookshop in the difficult times of today.
“Before I took over, I ought perhaps to have read a piece of George Orwell’s writing published in 1936. ‘Bookshop Memories’ rings as true today as it did then, and sounds a salutary warning to anyone as naive as I was that the world of selling second-hand books is not quite as idyll of sitting in an armchair by a roaring fire with your slipper-clad feet up, smoking a pipe and reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall while a stream of charming customers engages you in intelligent conversation, before parting with fistfuls of cash. In fact, the truth could scarcely be more different.” Shaun Bythell Page 1/2
Shaun’s account paints a very different picture of events surround the sale of books, but though he is entirely honest with us readers, Shaun never wavers on the fact that he would never consider doing anything else. Shaun mentions Orwell and his book in the quote above, this book is very much inspired by ‘Bookshop Memories’. Shaun starts each chapter with a quote as well a reflection of what Orwell was getting at in each piece and Shaun compares it to his own experiences. Other than those short pieces, the book is almost entirely made up of diary entries.
Across 13 months The Diary Of A Bookseller shares daily summaries of all the time Shaun spends within the shop or travelling to acquire or sell stock. I thought the format was perfect for what Shaun was trying to achieve. Putting us in his shoes, helping us to empathise with people who dedicate their lives to sharing people’s work and asking us to stop and think about what it all means. Shaun’s writing harnesses so much tension, passion and frustration; he is an incredibly nuanced guy. The entries show charm, wit, humility, understanding, amusement, anger and love. Shaun certainly has his Bernard Black moments, especially with his love/hate relationship with his number two Nicky, but fundamentally he is in love with books and keeping the soul of his shop alive.
Fighting the tide of online book shopping, battling with Amazon on many fronts, taking a shotgun to a Kindle and managing the gauntlet of turbulent sales and unpredictable customers is what Shaun Bythell is all about. He surrounds himself with book lovers and fantastic characters. SB talks to us about how publishing has changed over the years, the excitement of first editions and how to find the real rare gems. The Diary Of A Bookseller is a comfort read, charming and cosy but also full of meaningful moments and out-right hilarity. SB is a classic observer and puts his experiences into words in the most satisfying of ways. The broad spectrum that SB covers is inspirational, showing the naive of us what it truly takes to run a bookshop. I loved the insights into the Wigtown Book Festival, an event I very much desire to attend in the future, and how much Shaun/The Bookshop does to pitch in. Shaun has no endgame, just buying/selling books and enjoying the brief but frequent moments of exquisite joy.
My problems with The Diary Of A Bookseller are pretty unsubstantial. I felt that the accounts got slightly repetitive at times, but that is life unfortunately. Also the heading and footers of orders/taking were overall fairly arbitrary as, though they paint a faint picture of the financial status of the shop, it is only a slice of the story so they don’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of the book. Other than that I am smitten with this read. It takes a proud place on my bookshelf as another superb addition to the collection of books coming out that aim to keep the passion of books aflame.
Overall I would happily acknowledge The Diary Of A Bookseller as a compulsory read for all book-lovers. Shaun has written a comprehensive and enjoyable guide to modern book culture/climates and how we can all do a little something to keep the light alive. Shaun is clearly devoted to books and I loved the fact that it inspires people like me to stay invested in reading and taking time to explore the smaller, most importantly real-life, bookshops that still thankfully populated our towns and cities. Support your local shops as they work hard every day to keep the peace and bring us fantastic reads.
About Shaun Bythell
Shaun Bythell bought The Bookshop in Wigtown in November 2001, and has been running it since then with an increasing passion for the business, matched only by a sense of despair for its future. In 2004 he became involved with the Wigtown Book Festival, during which The Bookshop wines and dines the 200 (or so) visiting authors. He enjoys cycling – usually to the pub – and lives above the shop with his cat, Captain.