The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Print Length: 315 pages
Publisher: Profile Books
If you consider yourself a dedicated bibliophile who is interested in how bookshops work—or are a bookseller yourself and want to read another bookseller’s opinion about running a second-hand bookshop in the UK, then voila! You are at the right place reading this post. Author Shaun Bythell narrates his (I have no clue why I assumed it was she, sorry!) experiences of running a second-hand bookshop at Wigtown, Scotland. The Bookshop is the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland set in its officially designated ‘National Book Town’. Bythell writes in a journal style noting down observations about his customers, the business of bookselling and overall imparts the cosiness of a small bookshop right in your hands to read.
I once borrowed this book from the Fountainbridge Library in Edinburgh close to my residence, but couldn’t manage to finish the book and returned it unread. Fast forward to January 2020, my TBR twin for January on Goodreads got in touch with me and this time, The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell was the only book we both had in common in our ‘Want to Read’ shelves. So I downloaded the eBook from Amazon and read it in digital format; I definitely wouldn’t recommend reading this book in that format! It is a descriptive book, hence while it does enlighten you with the second-hand bookselling business, it can get exhaustive at times. Had I not studied publishing or worked as an intern in a second-hand bookshop in the UK, I would have been lost a bit with the vocabulary the author uses to explain his thoughts and opinions. Meanwhile, my TBR twin is a bookseller in Germany—it was interesting to find her point of views and similarities with the author and gain insights about bookshops and book business there. (I was lucky to co-read it with a bookseller!)
Few assumptions that I made about the book was—it has a story; the author is female; it will talk about hardships of running a second-hand bookshop grimly. The title is apt, it is a diary and Bythell writes it like that. He observes and describes the type of customers that enter his bookshop; his haggles regarding price of a book when dealing with people; peculiarities he finds in the bookselling trade and how Amazon has negatively impacted on bookshops (another reason not to read on kindle!) His writing consists of dry humour and everyday insight into his day at his shop. I liked the titles that he mentions at times which will baffle you as a mere mortal and make you question why? For example: Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants, The Dieter’s Guide to Weight Loss During Sex and Two in the Bush: The Fine Art of Vaginal Fisting (why? again). On the other hand, the book is peppered with knowledge regarding books and bookselling which I found quite interesting.
Customers often fail to understand this and think that their first edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is worth a fortune, when in fact 12 million of them were printed. As an author’s success and fame increase, so too will the size of the print runs of their successive books. Hence a first edition of Casino Royale (of which only 4,728 first edition hardbacks were printed) will be worth considerably more than a copy of The Man with the Golden Gun, which had a first-edition, first-issue print run of 82,000.
Before reading this book, I highly recommend you to read the essay Bookshop Memories by George Orwell. All his chapters start from quotes taken from this essay. The Diary of a Bookseller will transport you into an idyllic setting which is a stark contrast to contemporary digital rush. It forces you to slow down and enjoy the book, minus the rude customers that the author has to handle and you don’t! Wish I had read this book and visited Wigtown when I lived in Edinburgh. But it brings back some fond memories of my first internship at Main Point Books. *sighs*
Thank you so much for reading this post. Cheers!
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