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Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell - Review

Saturday, August 14, 2021

This was the July choice for my book club, chosen by Paula. I hadn't even heard of it but managed to get it on eBay for just a few quid, which was good. I didn't realise it was non-fiction before I started it, but it is literally the diary of the owner of a bookshop in Wigtown, Galloway, in Scotland. He starts it one February, in 2014, when it's around thirteen years after he bought the shop. He had lived away from Scotland for over a decade after going to university in Bristol, but moved back to buy the bookshop.

Wigtown is known as a book town and has an annual book festival. I knew this, and although I've never been I would really like to! I want to go to Hay-on-Wye too, but I've not been there either. It has fewer secondhand bookshops than it used to, but I'm sure it's still worth a trip.

Shaun is misanthropic and surrounded by some very eccentric people. There's Nicky who works in the shop, who is a Jehovah's Witness and drives a van always full of rubbish. She goes skip diving and brings squashed, barely edible food for Shaun often. While she listens to him when he gives her jobs, she then completely ignores him and does her own thing instead. She also has a very idiosyncratic way of filing books. 

Shaun has a couple more people who work in the shop but only Nicky is a regular. He has regular visitors though, including his American girlfriend Anna. There's an elderly man who orders approximately one book a week through the shop but about whom Shaun knows nothing. There's the festival director, Eliot, who turns up every few months for meetings and always leaves his shoes in Shaun's kitchen. There are plenty more people, a lot of whom Shaun is genuinely friendly with and his affection shines through his writing. 

Trade does go through the shop - Shaun details the number of customers and the till takings for each day - but the shop also does a lot of orders through Amazon and Abebooks. Shaun is derisive of both, and of Amazon taking over the secondhand book trade. I feel a lot of sympathy with him there; I try to use independent bookshops and almost never use Amazon for anything. 

There's also a lot of stuff about books that Shaun buys. He will often accept books in the shop, taking boxes and handing over sums up to £100. He often travels to nearby places where people are clearing the houses of loved ones, and takes hundreds of books, handing over sums up to a thousand pounds and beyond. I really liked the aspect of the book and I was amazed how many books Shaun bought. 

I really liked the book, I liked the span of a whole year and the look at Shaun's life and the good and bad parts of it. I'd recommend it!

Don't forget you can still enter the giveaway in the last post, until the end of the month! 

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