A trip to Scotland is in our future, so “The Diary of a Bookseller” by Shaun Bythell has been on my radar since it’s publication in 2017. After my reading guru Anne Bogel (Modern Mrs. Darcy) recently traveled to Scotland and visited The Bookshop, I had no choice but to part with some cash at Indigo Books on Kiawah Island and move it to the top of my list.
The book chronicles Bythell’s experiences owning Scotland’s largest second-hand book store in tiny, sea-side Wigtown. Bythell purchased The Bookshop in 2001. The book is broken down into chapters by the month and each chapter begins with a notably-negative quote from George Orwell’s “Bookshop Memories”. If you think owning a book store seems like a dream, think again.
This book-diary is hilarious. Bythell’s extremely dry and sarcastic wit leaps off the pages. The daily antics of employees like Nikki, the ski-suit-wearing-metal-detector-hobbyist who regularly hijacks the shop’s Facebook page and brings disgusting food items to “share” with Shaun will make you laugh out loud. Then there’s Sandy, the “tattooed pagan” who makes and sells walking sticks which are sold in the shop and is a regular fixture in Wigtown and famous for being the most tattooed man in Scotland. The highlight of the diary is Bythell’s documentation of idiotic and sidesplitting customer comments such as: “I never buy second-hand books. You don’t know who else has touched them.” My personal favorites were the couple in their 60s wearing “Lycra cycling gear” who walked out leaving a “trail of resentment in their wake”.
On a more serious note, Bythell articulates perfectly the impact of Amazon on second-hand bookstores across the globe. The most photographed item in The Bookshop is the Kindle he shot and mounted on a shield and placed in a prominent location for customers to see. The relentless domination of Amazon spurred Bythell to create the “Random Book Club”. For 59 pounds ($75 US dollars) subscribers receive one random book per month which Bythell and staff choose, taking great care to select books they believe anyone who loves reading will enjoy and appreciate. There are 150 members and this innovative idea has helped the The Bookshop stay afloat.
If you love to read and visit book stores or libraries, or if you own a small business of any kind, you will enjoy this book. I plan to take my hardback copy to Wigtown and see if Bythell will sign my book. I will try hard not to be too cheerful and perky, or to say anything stupid lest I end up in Volume II of “The Diary of a Bookseller.”
My 2019 Reading Intentions:
1-Cut book purchases from Amazon drastically. (I get to vote with my dollars and if I patronize indie book stores, maybe they’ll stay open!)
2-Read 50 books
3-Abandon books if I’m not “connecting” after a few chapters. Life is too short to read a book I’m not enjoying. It’s okay.
4-Take notes as I read
5-Listen each week to “From the Front Porch” podcast (Conversations on books, small business and life in the South)
“Hold Love Strong” by Matthew Aaron Goodman (January book club pic),
“Our Prince of Scribes – Writers Remember Pat Conroy” (Seitz & Haupt)
“The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren (re-reading)