In 2001, Shaun Bythell bought The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland. In The Diary of a Bookseller, Bythell shares a year in the life of a book store owner. His reminisces are full of book swapping, odd customers, sometimes odder staff, and a dogged determination to keep his doors open when Amazon is undercutting the book trade everywhere and no on seems to want to actually pay for books.
I listened to the audiobook version of the book. I think listening to Robin Laing narrate (and do all the accents!) helped me get through the book. There are parts of the book that get a bit repetitive. Every day begins with a count of online orders received and filled and ends with the till total. The parts in between are the best. I loved all the stories about the strange questions people asked. What is it about books that makes them function as weirdo magnets? The Bookshop sees hordes of people who are obsessed with narrow topics, who use the store to window shop before buying books online, or who attempt to get more money than their battered, un-rare books. Thankfully, although this sounds angry and depressing, Bythell relates most of it with a wonderful sense of humor. His turns of phrase had me laughing through. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the description of an unkempt customer as looking as though “his clothes had been loaded into a cannon and fired at him.”
Another thread of the book is Bythell’s continuing efforts to keep The Bookshop open in the face of reduced sales. He uses Amazon to sell book online because there really is no other game in town. Even though Amazon is making things incredibly cheap and convenient for us, but it is destroying the book trade. It has completely disrupted the valuation of books and, I think, contributed to the way that book buyers fight so hard to pay the cheapest price whatever even though the books are worth more. There were some parts that made me squirm because I’ve bought books on Amazon when there are independent bookstores in my town. (In my defense, these stores are mostly unorganized piles of books I don’t want to read anyway.) I cheered a little bit on the inside when the shop’s daily takings took an upward swing.
Readers who enjoy memoirs about bookish lives will like this a lot, even though there are repetitive bits. I had a great time hanging out with Bythell for a year in this honest, funny memoir.