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The Diary of a Bookseller (a review)

November, 2018
By Danna D'Esopo Jackson

Like many dealers in the secondhand book trade, Shaun Bythell never set out to be a bookman and was a late arrival on the book scene.  He has, however, made up for lost time with his charming autobiography, The Diary of a Bookseller, chronicling his first year in The Bookshop in Wigtown, a remote book village in southwestern Scotland.

Don't look for a bibliographical discussion of edition points or a comparison of dust jackets here, for his emphasis is less on his books and more on his staff and the vivid assemblage of personalities who visit him and his cat, Captain, in the shop.  Among Bythell's sidelines are his video service and the Random Book Club, in which members pay an annual fee for a monthly book that he selects.  He filmed one of the dispersals to the Random members and most, as they opened their paper bags and pulled out their books, were delighted at finding a book they would otherwise never have thought of reading.

If you've "always wanted" to run a bookstore, Bythell has an opening for you:  you can pay him for your very own moment in the book dust, running The Bookshop. Despite his ingenious money-making gambits, Bythell sees himself as an embattled David, fighting the voracious giant, Goliath (Amazon).  He once used a Kindle for target practice and mounted the shattered remains on a trophy plaque.  Clearly, his eccentricity is a shot in the arm for Wigtown, offering expanded opportunities and amusement for its reading residents and visitors. 

Of interest to the trade, this is the only bookshop memoir I've read that actually provides a detailed record of the shop's number of customers, day's receipts, and number of online orders compared to the number actually located.

For an expanded critique of Bythell's views of his shop, his customers, the trade, and Wigtown, read The Guardian review, entitled The Diary of a Bookseller – Service With a Scowl, by Alice O'Keeffe.

— Submitted by Danna D'Esopo Jackson (Between The Lines Books)