The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

The Diary of a Bookseller

Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown - Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea. A book-lover's paradise? Well, almost ... In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and...

Title:The Diary of a Bookseller
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Edition Language:English

The Diary of a Bookseller Reviews

  • Rebecca Foster

    So you think you’d like to run a bookshop? Here’s a book to tempt and deter you in equal measure. In 2001 Shaun Bythell acquired The Bookshop, the flagship bookstore in Wigtown, the Book Town in Galloway in the southwest of Scotland. Here he gives a one-year snapshot of life at the shop, from February 2014 to February 2015. At the start you can feel the winter chill in the old granite building, and as months pass you sense mounting excitement at preparations for the annual Book Festival (going o

    So you think you’d like to run a bookshop? Here’s a book to tempt and deter you in equal measure. In 2001 Shaun Bythell acquired The Bookshop, the flagship bookstore in Wigtown, the Book Town in Galloway in the southwest of Scotland. Here he gives a one-year snapshot of life at the shop, from February 2014 to February 2015. At the start you can feel the winter chill in the old granite building, and as months pass you sense mounting excitement at preparations for the annual Book Festival (going on now) and the Scottish referendum. It’s a pleasure to spend a vicarious year at the shop. This would make a great bedside book for a bookish type to parcel out 5–10 pages at a time (another Christmas gift idea?).

    Bythell frequently ventures out to buy book collections in auctions and from estates, and occasionally goes fishing with his father or friends. But mostly we see what daily life is like for a bookshop owner. He can’t afford full-time staff, so gets sporadic help from university-age gals; his most “reliable” part-timer is Nicky, a ski suit-wearing, Dumpster-diving Jehovah’s Witness who blithely ignores much of what he asks her to do.

    Every entry opens and closes with statistics on the day’s takings and online orders. Profits range from £5 to £500 a day, rising in the summer and peaking around £1200 during the festival. Also listed is the number of customers who make purchases, which represents only one-fifth of daily footfall. Nowadays most bookstores sell online too, and The Bookshop reluctantly partners with Amazon as a marketplace seller. There’s also ABE and eBay; as a last-ditch option, some outfits take books in bulk, even if just to recycle them. Alongside online sales, it’s essential for bookstores to have sidelines. Bythell does video production and sells furniture, antiques and walking sticks carved by “Sandy, the tattooed pagan.”

    As with Wendy Welch’s

    , I enjoyed the nitty-gritty details about acquiring and pricing books, especially the serendipitous moments of coming across real treasures, like a book signed by Sir Walter Scott and a 1679 edition of the

    with an interesting provenance. The book is also full of quirky customer behavior, the kind of stuff that fills The Bookshop’s Facebook feed. Bythell cultivates a curmudgeonly persona – he once shot a broken Kindle and mounted it on the bookshop wall – and maintains a tone that’s somewhere between George Orwell (excerpts from whose “Bookshop Memories” serve as monthly epigraphs) and Jen Campbell (

    et al.). Here’s a few of the best encounters:

    I’ve been to Hay-on-Wye six times now but haven’t made it to Wigtown yet. It’s high on my bookish wish list. I had two additional reasons for wanting to read this particular book: I’d read

    , a memoir by Bythell’s former partner, the American Jessica Fox (here known as “Anna”; in her book he’s “Ewan”), about coming to Scotland on a whim and falling in love with a bookshop owner; and I’m awfully fond of The Bookshop Band, a folky husband–wife musical duo who this year relocated from Bath to Wigtown. It was such fun to read about their first time playing in Wigtown and their stay as the inaugural guests/temporary store managers via The Open Book Airbnb project.

    I’ve written that the bookseller’s life is both appealing and daunting. When Bythell is lugging heavy boxes from a house clearance into his van and sorting through them only to find he’s acquired mostly rubbish, or when he comes across a browser who’s brazenly looking up books on Amazon on her laptop to see if she can get them cheaper, you wonder who’d do this for a living. But then there are times when he’s sitting by the fire with an excellent book recommended by a customer, or the town is bustling with festival events, or he’s watching spring come to rural Scotland, and you think: what could be better? In one of his last entries Bythell writes, “whatever is required to keep the ship afloat will be done. This life is infinitely preferable to working for someone else.” I wish him well, and hope to visit soon.

    Originally published, with images and links, on my blog,

    .

  • Sara

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

    One of my favourite comedies from the early '00's was Black Books, a comedy set in a second hand book shop and starring Dylan Moran as a misanthropic book seller who hates people and drinks copious amounts of wine. This is the book equivalent to that comedy, and I absolutely loved it.

    The book outlines a year in the life of Shaun Bythell, owner of The Book Shop, and his daily interactions with customers and excur

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

    One of my favourite comedies from the early '00's was Black Books, a comedy set in a second hand book shop and starring Dylan Moran as a misanthropic book seller who hates people and drinks copious amounts of wine. This is the book equivalent to that comedy, and I absolutely loved it.

    The book outlines a year in the life of Shaun Bythell, owner of The Book Shop, and his daily interactions with customers and excursions to source books. It's never pretentious, and often very, very funny. I particularly warmed to shop assistant Nicky, who is basically described as a wombling Jehovah's Witness, who often turns up to her shifts in the book shop in an all in one black ski suit with an accompanying assortment of food found in the skip behind Morrisons. The daily struggle with customers was also very funny and informative - I gained a particular fondness for regular customer Mr Deacon, but ultimately reminded me that I never want another career in retail!

    The book serves as a great insight into the dying breed of booksellers, and provided a lot of information about books that I didn't know, such as books published before 1501 known as 'incunabula'. I liked the little excerpts from George Orwell which proceeded every month too, as they provided some cohesiveness to the structure of the book and made it feel less like a traditional diary.

    I think the only section I didn't enjoy was where the author got sidetracked talking about fishing for a few pages in August. Again, they only lasted a few pages, but they felt a little bit out of place.

    In all honesty, I think this is one of the best books I've read this year, and has had me heartily reminiscing about the old book shop that I use to frequent as a youngster. Now, unfortunately, it's been turned into a pub (!) but this book proves just how vulnerable and invaluable book shops are in our country since the rise of the ebook and major retailers. My only regret is that I read this on my kindle, but make no mistake, I'll be buying the hardback.

  • Jason

    I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.

    Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown – Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving. This is his diary of a year running his bookshop, ably assisted by a series of characters, both staff and customers. It is very funny and Shaun has a knack of penning descriptions of the customers who frequent his shop, form Mr Deacon who orders his books in perso

    I received a free review copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest unedited feedback.

    Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown – Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving. This is his diary of a year running his bookshop, ably assisted by a series of characters, both staff and customers. It is very funny and Shaun has a knack of penning descriptions of the customers who frequent his shop, form Mr Deacon who orders his books in person, rather than online through to the inane questions asked by customers who think they are funny, with such gems as ‘I can’t find anything to read in here’ and ‘It is cheaper online’.

    You also get an insight into how hard it is to keep a second hand bookshop going with the mighty Amazon and eBooks/Kindle changing the book market place dramatically over the past few years. When he bought the bookshop in 2001 we had the Net Book Agreement (NBA) and chain retailers like Dillons, Ottakers and Borders, who have all gone now, plus eBooks were just starting to make an impact (there is a YouTube clip of him taking a shotgun to a Kindle and mounted in the shop – ironic for me as I read the book on my Kindle!).

    He is ably assisted/hindered by his one full time member of staff Nicky, who leads a novel way of life that includes raiding the local Morrisons bins for ‘Foodie Friday’. You get an insight into the world of assessing and buying book collections, usually after the death of a family member and can read the passion he has when he discovers a rare book or one beautifully bound and/or illustrated. The bookshop itself is used for events, including an annual literary festival and even has a bed in it, which makes a change from the usual coffee outlet found in a chain bookshop.

    Having worked in a bookshop (okay it was WHSmith’s but I was the Book Department Manager), I can relate to his perceived rudeness to some of his customers. As he says in the book he can get away with it as he owns the shop, sadly others in retail have to accept the insults and sarcastic comments some customers can send your way. He is never overly rude though, just to those that deserve it.

    Reading this book wants you a) to read many of the books he recommends and b) visit his bookshop, if only to meet some of the customers like Mr Deacon and the owner himself. If you have any interest at all in books, do read this as it will reinforce your love of books and bookshops.

  • Manchester Military History Society (MMHS)

    Having visited Shaun's bookshop it was easy to picture both the shop, Wigtown and the beautiful Galloway countryside. Ok that's the end of the tourism promo, now the review.

    The books is a concise and well written read with Shaun dispensing many fascinating literary facts, bookseller anecdotes and observations on his varied and often eccentric clientele and staff. I love the random book club concept.

    Whilst the stories can

    Having visited Shaun's bookshop it was easy to picture both the shop, Wigtown and the beautiful Galloway countryside. Ok that's the end of the tourism promo, now the review.

    The books is a concise and well written read with Shaun dispensing many fascinating literary facts, bookseller anecdotes and observations on his varied and often eccentric clientele and staff. I love the random book club concept.

    Whilst the stories can a little repetitive he does gives a great insight into the world of the second hand bookseller and the irresistible domination of the market by amazon which makes my review here somewhat ironic as Goodreads is owned by amazon.

    The chapters are headed by Orwell quotes from when he worked in a bookshop which are a nice touch and the narrative naturally follows the ebbs and flows of the seasons as sales peak and trough throughout the year.

    If you are ever in the Wigtown area I'd highly recommend Shaun's bookshop for a visit but don't dare his wrath by leaving without a purchase - very hard to do in my experience.

    If you'd like to see some of the characters involved search for "readers delight" on YouTube and do follow them on Facebook.

    Will this be published as an ebook?, well my review copy was, but at least I read it on a kobo rather than a kindle.

    I was provided this book free by the publishers via netgalley but was not obliged to write a positive review.

  • Vanessa

    Call me crazy but I've always wondered when I die what will happen to all my books. My house is overflowing with them. Nobody else reads them but me. The Diary of a bookseller made me think I'm not so crazy after all. It appears there are way more crazier people in the world. It also appears most of them frequent this book shop.

    The funny stories abound with a daily summary of a day in the life of a bookseller in Scotland's largest 2nd hand book shop in the charming little village of Wigtown whe

    Call me crazy but I've always wondered when I die what will happen to all my books. My house is overflowing with them. Nobody else reads them but me. The Diary of a bookseller made me think I'm not so crazy after all. It appears there are way more crazier people in the world. It also appears most of them frequent this book shop.

    The funny stories abound with a daily summary of a day in the life of a bookseller in Scotland's largest 2nd hand book shop in the charming little village of Wigtown where not much else happens there except it's like a little Mecca for book lovers, a place where all manner of people come and go. Some buyers but mostly browsers which irritates Shaun the owner of the book shop to no end. He doesn't hold back on the snide commentary which makes for a lot of laughs! The customers are an odd assortment of characters, most are misers or non buyers, a few regulars and a smattering of real serious book buyers and collectors. Also some of the interactions with his regular staff are hilarious, some are clearly purposely intentionally incompetent much to Shaun's bemusement, he's a very tolerant man but secretly I think he enjoys every bit of their open contempt. I loved the outings where he goes to source books, most coming from deceased estates never knowing what kind of treasure or in most cases useless rubbish he will find. I found this book such a gem. My dream has always been to work in a bookshop and although my views are slightly tainted with the realities depicted here I am still utterly envious of the part time staffers that get to have the best job in the world in my opinion.

    Too bad the book industry is a dying commodity. I feel bad as I'm one of those people who do buy online (reading this from my kindle I'm sensing the irony) but I also regularly buy 2nd hand books whenever possible and it always gives me an absolute thrill surrounding myself in a world of books and I for one cannot leave without buying a book! I perish the thought of walking out without at least an armful of books. I think that makes me a true bookish person unlike those book poser imposters! *shudders*

    This book won't please everyone it could prove tedious for some but for me I sure am going to be sad to leave this book, the people, the town and this bookshop. I've never wanted to visit Scotland before but now I feel almost compelled to, I feel such an affinity for this book loving town and I'm so glad places like this still exist!

    Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for my early review copy!

  • Barbara

    Books about bookstores are one of my favorite genres, and there are not many of them. Shaun Bythell bought a second hand bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland which near the coast of the Irish Sea, and Stranraer which has a ferry to Belfast. It has an annual book festival, which the book makes clear is the highlight of their annual calendar.

    Bythell walked away from a "real" job and bought the business about 15 years ago. Living in an old stone building in rainy and often cold Scotland is challenging, bu

    Books about bookstores are one of my favorite genres, and there are not many of them. Shaun Bythell bought a second hand bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland which near the coast of the Irish Sea, and Stranraer which has a ferry to Belfast. It has an annual book festival, which the book makes clear is the highlight of their annual calendar.

    Bythell walked away from a "real" job and bought the business about 15 years ago. Living in an old stone building in rainy and often cold Scotland is challenging, but not as challenging as running a bookshop of any kind in the age of Amazon. The review of the book in the Guardian pointed out that although the book is full of humorous stories of customers, shop employees, and the town, is primarily seething with anger. Amazon has not simply changed the book business, it has driven most bookshops including used booksellers out of business. It has also changed customers. So many of his customers demanded discounts, or complained a book was too expensive. Sometimes they were wrong. If they paid Amazon's shipping charges, they'd be spending more. Very very few appreciated, it seemed, the value of a bookshop. This owner carefully researches prices, and the books that he stocks. He drives as far as Edinburgh to help people get rid of their books. Often they are moving or someone has passed away. It is a lot of work, especially hauling all the boxes of books around. Yet one customer who asked how he got his books and was told that he bought them from people getting rid of their books, turned and told his wife " See I told you he got them for free".

    The book is the story of someone who appreciates and loves books. He probably doesn't love many of his customers who will astound readers with their rudeness. Thankfully the tide is turning against e-books and back to physical books. I don't think I will ever go into a bookstore again and leave empty handed, as many of his customers do. There are many who come in (and some are belligerent) asking if he has a certain book. When he does, they almost never buy it. I cannot imagine arguing with a used bookshop about the price of a book, but it happens often in his shop. Somehow he has held out for 15 years.

    This is a book that readers who love bookshops will enjoy. It will probably bring more visitors to Wigtown and hopefully some of them will buy a book.

    p.s. I have occasionally bought a book from overseas and paid a lot for postage. I am now glad I did because 1) the book was not widely available and 2) the bookseller probably did not go in the red paying to send it all the way to the US.

  • Ylenia

    Such a beautiful book about books & book selling.

    I already know what book I'm getting my friends for Christmas because this was hilarious & spoke to my misanthropic heart.

  • Karen Mace

    I thought this was a highly amusing and informative book as it steps behind the scenes at The Bookshop in Wigtown, which is a second hand bookstore in Scotland. The owner, Shaun Bythell, recollects the past year as the owner and all that entails - the highs, the lows, the weird customers, the onslaught of Amazon and its' practices, the funny and stressful sides of a booksellers life and how he gets his revenge on those who browse his shelves and then claim they can get the book cheaper elsewhere

    I thought this was a highly amusing and informative book as it steps behind the scenes at The Bookshop in Wigtown, which is a second hand bookstore in Scotland. The owner, Shaun Bythell, recollects the past year as the owner and all that entails - the highs, the lows, the weird customers, the onslaught of Amazon and its' practices, the funny and stressful sides of a booksellers life and how he gets his revenge on those who browse his shelves and then claim they can get the book cheaper elsewhere - when he knows they can't!!

    There is a real warmth in the way that he writes and it had me chuckling on many occasions and it just sounds like my idea of heaven to visit! It has even prompted me to join the Random Book Club that the bookshop runs so can't wait for my books to start arriving!!

    For all those of us who love reading and love rummaging through old bookstores of which there are far too few nowadays! Save the secondhand bookshops!!

    Thank you to NetGalley for the advanced copy in return for a fair and honest review.

  • Neil

    I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a honest review.

    I just found the whole book to be very repetitive, which in turn bored me.

    Did not enjoy at all.

  • Kirsty

    I shall begin this review by stating that I have never personally wanted to be a bookseller, at least not to the same extent as a lot of my bookish friends, and other avid readers. I do, of course, have an awful lot of respect for those who do, particularly in the case of secondhand and independent booksellers. Enter Shaun Bythell, who falls into both categories. His memoir,

    , tells of a calendar year in his bookshop, the imaginatively named 'The Book Shop', in Wigtown i

    I shall begin this review by stating that I have never personally wanted to be a bookseller, at least not to the same extent as a lot of my bookish friends, and other avid readers. I do, of course, have an awful lot of respect for those who do, particularly in the case of secondhand and independent booksellers. Enter Shaun Bythell, who falls into both categories. His memoir,

    , tells of a calendar year in his bookshop, the imaginatively named 'The Book Shop', in Wigtown in Galloway, Scotland's book town.

    Bythell's account was not as charming as I was expecting, but there is an awful lot of wit and humour to it at times.

    is absorbing and engaging from its first entry, and I must admit that I lost almost an entire day of working on my thesis because I could barely put it down. I found it fascinating - and often quite sad - to learn about ways in which the book trade has altered over time, and has been changed irrevocably by the likes of chain stores and Amazon. Long live the physical bookshop, is all I can say. Oh, and go and pick this up. You won't regret it.

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