Category Archives: Independent Bookshops

The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell

Hello lovely people!

I hope you’re all well and enjoying the best November is giving us. I’m really pleased it’s Friday evening I have to say. Today I want to share with you a delightful read that I found on one of my many pilgrimages to Waterstones. Two things caught my attention: the cover and the title. I’ve always believed that it’s quite romantic to own a bookshop. However, Shaun Bythell’s daily account has shown me the harsh realities of owning a bookshop.

What’s it all about?

Written by bookseller Shaun Bythell, this book tells the story of a year in the second largest second hand book shop in Wigtown, Scotland. Containing over 100,000 books, spanning a mile of shelving and nooks and crannies, this is a paradise to people like me. These diary entries provide the heart wrenching truth of the decline (?) of the physical book in a digital world. Shaun provides his readers an insight into this world: his eccentric customers and his ski suit wearing, bin rummaging member of staff, Nikki.

‘Every Friday she brings me a treat that she has found in the skip behind Morrisons supermarket…’

Centred around the daily takings and the orders through Amazon, we do meet an array of interesting characters who visit the shop. One of the more controversial decisions made my Bythell was to set up a Facebook account to share customers behaviour, questions and comments with the rest of the world. Whilst this can be seen as a risk, it has clearly paid off for the bookshop as Bythell notices that people are happier the ruder he is. I have to say, I too follow this on Facebook now!

‘One of the shop’s Facebook followers came in to buy books today. She and her boyfriend want to move here and I overheard her whispering “Don’t say anything stupid or he’ll post it on Facebook.” I will write something mean about her later.’

Whilst this can be seen as mean, I find that this brings the shop and the book to life. To be able to read some of the comments and questions from people from all walks of life is incredible really. I felt a particular fondness for customers like Mr Deacon, who see a book reviewed in The Times and then orders it through the local bookshop. One of my favourite parts from the beginning of this book is a customer who visited on Saturday 15th March.

‘He grinned and said, “You’ve got some stuff here, haven’t you? Some stuff. Some stuff.” He bought a copy of The Hobbit. I am putting a mental jigsaw together of what a hobbit looks like, based on a composite of every customer I have ever sold a copy to.’

Bum Bag Dave is also one of the notorious characters who visit the shop. He’s very knowledgable and is always adorned with one bum bag around his neck and one around his waist. Sandy the tattooed pagan also features, dropping off walking sticks to sell in the shop too in exchange for store credit. Jessie from The Picture Shop also features as another member of the community. However, not all customers are friendly or even quirky. Some are just plain rude. As a consequence of a rather angry email, an incident with a Kindle will forever stay in my mind.

‘After lunch I went to my parents’ house to get my shotgun and shoot a Kindle (broken screen, bought on eBay for £10), imagining it was the missing copy of Pomfret Towers. It was remarkably satisfying to blast it into a thousand pieces.’

The concept of a bookshop to me is absolute bliss. The anticipation of finding the next amazing read that will completely take over my life for a few days is one of the best feelings for me. However, to some people it is an alien thing, something which does create a rather negative response as from Bythell.

“So what is The Book Shop? Do you sell books or what? Do people just hand you the books in? What happens in here?”

Day to day life in a bookshop is a mix of customers looking for a book, customers ordering a book and people comparing the price on Amazon or eBay. For Bythell a number of journeys to view collections also feature. The constant battle to keep up with the digital world, to try and show the need for local bookshops in our towns, villages and cities features throughout in this honest narrative. Foodie Friday lightens the tone with the array of delights Nicky finds from the Morrison’s skip.

‘Nicky appeared just a moment after I had opened the shop and thrust what at first glance looked like something from a hospital clinical waste bin under my nose. It was fleshy and covered in what appeared to be blood. “It’s a jam doughnut from the Morrison’s skip.”

There are two things that I absolutely love. One is the fact that the shop receives a number of postcards which are pinned to the wall. These postcards are of various designs with a whole host of messages and sayings on them. Now I’m following the shop on Facebook, it’s really lovely to see that this is still happening. It creates a feeling of the novel is very much a living thing, a product of the shop. The second, also something which I am going to join in the New Year, is The Random Book Club. (More information here.)

‘The diary was written in 2014, and today is 1 November 2016: fifteen years to the day since I bought the shop.’

Overview

I found this book witty, wry and utterly enjoyable. Bythell has no sympathy for those who are ignorant or wish to waste his time. I really liked the fact that each month started with a George Orwell quote too, adding a nice bit of history to the novel. However, the beauty of this book is to highlight and reinforce the need for independent bookshops. For all of us to treasure what we have and use them. I’m absolutely going to join The Random Book Club as a reading challenge for next year. I also love going to bookshops. They’re magical places that we need to love, cherish and nurture for years to come.

I wish you all a lovely, restful week!

Big love all xx

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