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Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell review – service with a scowl | The Guardian - Autobiography and memoir

The Guardian, 22 October 2017.

"It is a wonder, reading some of Shaun Bythell’s descriptions of the customers in his bookshop, that anyone dares cross its threshold at all" inform Alice O'Keeffe, freelance literary critic and journalist based in Brighton.

Here we are introduced, for example, to one of the shop’s valued regulars, Mr Deacon: “His dark, thinning hair is combed over his pate in the unconvincing way that some balding men try to persuade others that they still retain a luxuriant mane… it appears as though someone has loaded his clothes into a cannon and fired them at him.”

Those who spend nothing – and they are legion – are particularly unflatteringly depicted, but even those who cough up are far from safe: “The wife mauled her way through the antiquarian shelves, coughing and moaning… Despite being remarkably annoying, [the couple] spent £250 on an 18th-century Scottish botanical book.”

When Bythell, proud owner of Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop, set up a Facebook page in 2010, he took a “calculated risk and decided to focus on customer behaviour”. This diary of one year in the life of the shop does the same, and much more besides. At first glance, it is a grumpily amusing account of a life that many city dwellers would consider idyllic: Bythell’s bookshop is in Wigtown, on the remote coast of Galloway. When he’s not foraging through libraries in crumbling estates, the author spends his time salmon fishing, sea swimming and hill walking. The fortunes of the once-declining town have been revived by the arrival of a clutch of bookshops, and the local booksellers also organise the Wigtown book festival, which attracts thousands of visitors to the area each year. 

Bythell creates his own bohemian world around the shop and festival, aided and abetted by a cast of characters including his assistant Nicky, a Jehovah’s Witness with a penchant for wearing home-stitched tabards and stealing food from skips, Bum Bag Dave, and Sandy, “the most tattooed man in Scotland”. Eminent writers pop by on their holidays and spend evenings drinking whisky by the fire. Frequent amusement is provided by the weird and wonderful titles ordered online: Gay Agony by HA Manhood; Collectible Spoons of the 3rd Reich.

Source: The Guardian