Books

Book Review: The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Oh, a book about bookshops, now we are going to get stuck in a nesting doll paradox of the book about bookshops in a bookshop in a bookshop in a bookshop. Okay, I stop. This book is about Shaun Bythell, the owner of a second-hand bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland, and his cynical accounts into his diary about the people who visit, about the book business as a whole, about his employees, and everything that happens in a bookshop. It also is structured with quotes from George Orwell and his accounts working in a bookshop. That is it, go read the book, or better yet listen to it, the narrator is fantastic.

I had fun with this book, all the complaints about customers and their special quirks, all the dullness of working in a bookshop is familiar for someone who has ever worked in one. I have. And the weird thing is that there is this soul-sucking feeling working in a bookshop, yet, you continue loving bookshops. (Orwell didn’t.) From what I listened to the diary, I think it is the same reason I had, customers are darn rare nowadays. You roam around the shop hoping someone will venture in, and when they do, they ask silly questions about items that you really can’t buy from a bookshop, or they complain as they go out that they found nothing but have left the shop into one huge mess. So, listening to this book was like a nostalgia trip. To those who might be offended by the cynicism and commentary on the customers, try working in customer service in a time when customers know they are right even when they are downright wrong and being very rude or just being plain weird, and after you have endured all that, being nice and polite about it, they leave emptyhandedly, and you wonder about the paycheck and living costs.

If there is one thing to take out of this book, is the fact that bookshops are a dying industry. Amazon is driving them to ground, and at the same time, writers too. It might not seem like that, but if one entity has a monopoly in the markets, they get to dictate the terms, and Amazon is showing that they are already doing that with their pricing policy and marketing schemes for both the writers and sellers. Books are getting cheaper, and those working in the industry need to pay their bills and feed their cats. It is fun to read about Shaun Bythell shooting his kindle and framing it, but this highly symbolic act tells a lot about the plight of small mom and pop shops all around the world (in different fields too.) It is difficult to compete with megacorporations whose net worth is bigger than countries’, those kinds of players get to dictate the rules and we are already seeing and feeling it. It is the mom and pop shops that employ people.

Anyway, I got sidetracked. I loved this book, it was like walking a memory lane and cheering to the cynicism in the writer’s voice. I wasn’t the only one who was stuck in the weird limbo of loving and hating working in a bookshop. Okay, for those who have a romantic view and hope to retire to own a bookshop, this book is a harsh reality check to make you reconsider. That said, you can read between the lines that despite the cynicism and sarcasm, Shaun Bythell loves his bookshop and books, but sometimes that is not enough. He has to feed that black cat of his.

Thank you for reading, and I don’t mean only this post, I mean reading in general! Have a bookish day ❤

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