The Diary Of A Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Right guys, I’d grab a cuppa before reading this one, at double my usual review length, it’s a looooonnnngg one!

There were three reasons why I wanted to read this book:

  1. Some of the praise listed had compared the style to Nina Stibbe – LOVE HER WORK!
  2. It’s about a bookseller – I’m fascinated by the ins and outs of the bookseller world and as it’s always painted in stories to be so idyllic, I wanted to hear a more realistic viewpoint. Bythell does not hold back!
  3. The cover – with a cover this beautiful, it’s hard not to be lured to look at it in a bookstore.

So what did I think when I finally read it…

Hmm, my feelings are still mixed. I enjoyed the book, but it also made me feel a little deflated. With it being a memoir, you know these are Shaun’s real-life feelings about his customers, which of course makes the diary feel more honest, but it also felt brutal at times.

His generalisations on some of the book community seemed quite harsh, he expresses that people with book merchandise (bags, clothing, etc.) who come in and express their love for books, aren’t true book lovers. Now I understand that often when you’re walking around with that much merch’ on, you might come across a little in your face, but book enthusiasts like these, are the kind of people who wear their hearts on their sleeves and if they love reading, don’t put them off… no matter how they express themselves. I wouldn’t say I took offence to all of it, I just don’t like when people are judged before you actually get to know them. Everyone who takes the moment to enter a bookstore – new or secondhand, should be treated as equal because they’re allowing themselves to be surrounded by stories, that could bring them happiness and open them up to new thoughts and possibilities. I feel awful even writing this all, as I’m a sensitive soul and don’t like reading or hearing mean things about me or my loved ones, but I just wanted to get it out there that Shaun’s thoughts will not be for everyone. BUT if you can look past that, there’s a lot of hidden gems within this diary.

To start with, you learn first hand how much hard work goes on behind the scenes to keep a second hand bookstore stocked and turning profit, I was amazed by how many trips Shaun went on each week to refresh his stock and I was fascinated to learn which types of books sold best! Shaun really opens up about the knowledge required to know the pricing of a book and how much of it relates to wisdom (gained over the years), luck and research from fellow booksellers, book-dealers and the internet.

I can’t get over the irony of me buying this book from Amazon given his hatred for the site! It’s hardly a surprise to know the effect Amazon has on independent bookstores and even the big chains, it’s something that anyone can spot when you compare book prices; but what I enjoyed most was the way Shaun explained, in depth, how cut throat it could be for second hand booksellers through Amazon and also the high expectations that customers have for second hand… I can’t get over how many books are sent back!

When I read about a bookstore in a book, it’s usually got a dab of rose tinted-ness to it all, Shaun’s memories give a more accurate portrayal of the highs and lows; and it seems there are still lots of highs. Shaun is blessed with a location that allows him to be surrounded by nature, particularly great for fishing, and his friends appear to be jovial and always up for a good time – I enjoyed reading about a pint after work, drinking all night, etc… all very social!

The staff at The Bookshop were wonderful to read about. All highly unique, with bags of character in them all, and it was clear what an impact they had on Shaun. Nicky was my favourite due to the treats she brought in, her enthusiasm to do anything but what Shaun asked her to do, and her straight forwardness approach to news.

Upon reflection to my earlier hurt towards some of Shaun’s remarks, I would definitely say my warmness towards him grew throughout because he was always open to admit when he’d perhaps drawn the wrong conclusion about someone, and I did begin to appreciate how some customers really do push it beyond belief. However I still don’t dare tweet him direct on this review or post it on Amazon in fear of the response he might come up with!

The diary form style makes it an enjoyable and quick page-turner… you’ll read just that one more entry… until you realise a whole month has gone by. The topic of online/chain bookstores vs independent/second-hand stores will have you reflecting on where you buy next. And finally, the uniqueness of these people will leave you remembering them for a longtime!

The Diary of a Bookseller is out now in hardback, paperback (the one I chose) and eBook versions through Profile Books.

Until next time, Chloé x



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