Shaun Bythell diary of a booksellerA year in the life of a bookshop owner in Wigtown in the Scottish borders, which is a book town like Hay-on-Wye. I’m a bit nervous abut reviewing this, as the author is obviously quite a character, and has a somewhat alarming Facebook page in which he discusses various terrible bookshop customers, so I’m not sure what he’s going to think of his reviewers. On the other hand, he runs the Random Book Club, which sends you a random book a month for a year, and you’ve got to love that idea! (I might join. Shall I? Should I??).

Shaun Bythell – “The Diary of a Bookseller”

(E-book [see below] 12 July 2017)

Oddly enough, a few of my book review buddies and actual friends have read and talked about this one already – can’t think how that’s happened! And at least one has found it really funny – I actually found it quite a sad read (but a good one, I hasten to add, not just in case the author might be watching).

It IS funny, from the beginning, where Bythell talks about the Dylan Moran stereotype of an “impatient, intolerant, antisocial proprietor” and admits that he has become worn down into one of these now. He spends a lot of time shoring up the crumbling shop and buying dead or ageing people’s book collections, plus dealing with eccentric staff and unpleasant customers. Fortunately, there’s a large cast of attractive supporting characters, although dealt with very wryly on the whole, and you get the impression of a community that’s been revitalised by the whole book town thing.

There are unhappy coincidences, for example someone coming in and asking for “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which they don’t have, only for someone to appear minutes later with one to sell. The most heartbreaking story is when Tracy comes in having finished her job at the RSPB osprey centre, after having spent a summer explaining to people that the ospreys aren’t nesting this year … There are also sad tales of customers, and with the slightly gritty edge, the cataloguing of amounts made each day and unrepentent criticism of everyone, from book droppers to people coming in claiming they love books (then not buying any), plus the clear statements of just how Amazon has messed up the whole book trade, leading to a loss of the old book runners and book fairs and necessitating the purchase and shooting with an actual gun of Kindles, and this throws the funny bits into sharp contrast.

Bythell does note that the shop appears in the Guardian’s “Weird and wonderful bookshops worldwide” list at number three, and mulls over whether this shows a return to a reverence for the printed book. There are great quotes from George Orwell’s “Bookshop Memories” which in a way show that nothing ever changes, and I do wonder what effect the book will have on the shop (it’s already featured in one romantic story for which I won’t provide spoilers). I’d certainly like to visit – but I’d be a bit scared to, in case I got Going To A Bookshop wrong in their eyes. We’ll see. Road trip, anyone?

Thank you to Serpent’s Tail / Profile Books for making this book available via NetGalley and choosing me to read it in return for an honest review. Of course, I read the e-book, which is likely to enrage the author …