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The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
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The Diary of a Bookseller

by Shaun Bythell

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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Patrick Modiano: Search warrant and Shaun Bithell: The diary of a bookseller

‘The time I’ve spent, waiting in those cafes’: Search Warrant by Patrick Modiano (Harvell Secker Press, 2014,) page 5.

I am in Coffee Roasters on The High in Oxford. It is raining outside. For some reason a flat white to drink in is cheaper than a flat white to take away: £2.50 rather than £2.60. I picked up my second copy of Search Warrant by Patrick Modiano in the Oxford St Giles Oxfam bookshop. I only bought it for the neat set of page-by-page notes loosely inserted within. I don’t need to read the book now, just the notes, was my thinking,

Nevertheless, I read the first few pages of the book, became hooked and reminded myself of the importance of coffee and cigarettes to literature, for instance, Modiano introduces the cigarette as a characteristic of a Polish Jew who sold suitcases: ‘He was never without a cigarette dangling from the corner of his lips and, one afternoon, he offered me one’ (page 7). Simenon’s Maigret novels would be short stories without cafes, pipes and cigarettes.

My reading was interrupted by a woman asking me whether she could plug herself in under my feet and by another one who told everyone that her bus pass was running out today. The barista said ‘make the most of it, go anywhere, go to Abingdon’. She said ‘yeah’ but she was going to a porn shop in Cowley first. ‘You should see some of the stuff he’s got,’ she added as she went out the door.

Later in the day I finished reading Shaun Bythell’s The diary of a bookseller which cost me an outrageous £5.99 in a different Oxfam bookshop. I hope one day to visit the bookshop in Wigtown to be insulted. I really enjoyed Bythell’s book. It is reassuring to see how much customers irritate the bookseller who of course depends on the customer.

On page 232 he makes the point that ‘on the whole booksellers dislike librarians’. I have some sympathy with this. Librarians are almost certainly a book’s greatest enemy. The acquisition and deaccessioning processes cause grave damage to the quality of the book as a physical object. There is also the issue of free lending, endowing a sense of generosity upon librarians to the detriment of booksellers who have to make a living by selling and want to buy books for virtually nothing and then sell them on (or back to libraries) for the highest possible price. Mind you, I like the Wigtown bookseller’s approach to fines. Libraries fine people for books being overdue. In Wigtown, browsers who hang around and show a great interest in a book but don’t buy it, may find its price has been marked up by a fiver when they come back and eventually bring it to the till.

Having relocated my custom to an independent bookshop that sells carrot cake as well as books, I have become aware of a seemingly courteous respectful customer who has asked whether it is ok for him and his partner to have a coffee outside with their dog. The bookseller replied very positively saying, ‘even better, the dog would be most welcome inside’. I, a pre-existing customer, had no say in the matter. Within 2 minutes the shop was a menagerie. Dog meant two dogs, a lurcher and a poodle, with their owners, both international canine authorities, with loud voices to boot. The lurcher is called Lofty. Apparently, anything that is a greyhound is a lurcher. Lofty has Irish wolfhound in him and has beautiful colouring. The totally 100% poodle is a miniature bitch and quite rare. She is nearly a year old, cute and has huge eyes. Lofty can’t seem to sit still. The word ‘sit’ echoes repetitively round the bookshop. Mixed breeds need a lot of brushing. I couldn’t get past Lofty to get at the local history so left.

Elsewhere in his book, page 293, Mr Bythell suggests that marginalia and annotations made by readers are ‘captivating additions – a glimpse into the mind of another person who has read the same book’. I tend to agree. That is why I bought the second copy of Search Warrant. The previous owner had protected the book from desecration through the neatness of the writing, the page references and providing them as an insert on yellow-lined paper. As for their value, I’ve changed my mind. The notes are quite helpful in sorting out Modiano’s multiple chronologies but in my view are way off the mark in terms of assessment, for instance ’much is surmise’ is seen as a bad thing; characters are thought to be rather ordinary, one doesn’t get to know them, and the streets of Paris didn’t join up. I think the point of fading memory and things not joining up is what the book is all about. I reckon that Search warrant (Dora Bruder) is one of the best books I have ever read.

Also, I discovered on the back cover something brown that looks like remnants from one of Nicky’s Foodie Friday discount takeaways from Morrisons. It won’t come off. ( )
  jon1lambert | Sep 12, 2018 |
These are the experiences of Shaun Bythell, a bookseller in Wigtown in beautiful Scotland, in diary format. The working days, the interesting customers (problematic or not), the co-workers, the struggle to support a second-hand bookshop (the second largest in the country) in the era of technology, everything that makes bookselling such a fascinating and exhausting profession is included in this book. Despite the positive reviews and my high expectations, I have to say that I didn’t enjoy reading this at all….

There were two things that won me over and kept me going. The experiences of the author- sometimes, they proved to be real adventures- while trying to find the most appropriate books for his shop and the stories of the people linked to them. Their deceased owners and the ones that stayed behind and had to part with the books. Some of them. The rest were cruel monsters but anyway. Another interesting part is the connection of the bookshop world with Amazon and the importance of the online market in general. It was sad to learn how a mere rating in a dubious platform could influence your overall effort despite all your hard effort. In our digitalized, fast-food era, online purchases are vital for the survival of any shop. It further cemented my conviction not to support Amazon, a stance I’ve been supporting for years. On a lighter note, there were certain titles that were absolutely hilarious. Not one to judge but it definitely makes you wonder why people sometimes choose specific books. Do they buy them for the sake of research or have they organised their priorities wrong? These were the most amusing features of the book, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, here end my positive thoughts regarding The Diary of a Bookseller. Apart from the content, I always pay attention to the overall tone, the ‘’voice’’ of the writer, especially when it comes to Non-Fiction and in this case, there were quite a few moments that made me contemplate whether to stop reading altogether. Forgive me for saying this, but there is a fine line between sarcasm and rudeness and, in my opinion, Bythell crossed it. He didn’t strike me as the most sympathetic person on the planet. I’m not referring to his behaviour towards the customers (although it was definitely questionable at times) but to his overall thoughts and assumptions. Perhaps it is a matter of cultural difference but certain parts left a sour taste in my mouth. Needless to say, the majority of the customers mentioned in the entries were excruciatingly ignorant so these were the only moments when I felt that his responses could be justified. Furthermore, I found his posh, high-brow attitude towards Fiction rather unfair and, in all honesty, tiresome and absurd. His comments over ‘’large’’ (as he calls them) customers sounded problematic as did his observations over ‘’female’’ customers. And truthfully, repetition over Amazon statuses or problems he had been facing with an employee day after day made this an extremely mundane read.

Perhaps the most interesting feature was the inclusion of George Orwell’s quotes on books, readers and bookselling at the beginning of each chapter. I can see why many readers would enjoy The Diary of a Bookseller but the writing failed to engage me and gave me quite a few problematic moments. Therefore, I cannot possibly rate this with more than 2 stars (not that it matters, obviously) and naturally, it can’t hold a candle to Jen Campbell’s The Bookshop Book.

Many thanks to Melville House Publishing and Edelweiss for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. ( )
1 vote AmaliaGavea | Jul 18, 2018 |
This diary is a year in the life of Shaun Bythell and the customers and staff at The Book Shop, Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop, located in Wigtown. Along with till totals and online orders, we get stories about the store cat (Captain), glimpses into Shaun’s reading list, a passenger seat on trips to buy more books for the shop, and eyebrow-raising stories about daft customers. Shaun is not quite Bernard Black of “Black Books”, but anyone who has worked in a retail environment will tell you that people get irritating very quickly, and bookshops seem to amplify the inherent weirdness in some individuals.

I gobbled this book up in a day, staying up late to finish it because I was “so close to being done anyway”. It was also a special treat to read because my family had visited the shop during the period covered by the diary (fortunately, we weren’t *memorably* stupid or rude). Reading this brought back a lot of happy memories and made me want to go back. I’d recommend both this book (bought through your local bookshop please) and visiting the store itself! ( )
1 vote rabbitprincess | Jun 14, 2018 |
Funny year in the life of a bookseller in a small town in Galloway. The shop assistants, the bookshop cat, the customers and those selling books to the shop enliven the pages. One bemoans, with the author, the depredations of Amazon.
  ritaer | Apr 29, 2018 |
This is the diary of a bookseller, just as it says on the tin.....the books he buys and sells, and the people he buys from and sells to, Pretty simple stuff and somewhat interesting for 3-4 months, but a 12 month stretch is a bit much. For all that I love secondhand bookshops and hope this particular one will still be in business when I visit Wigtown. ( )
1 vote DramMan | Apr 15, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Bythell is often as charmingly unlikeable as his customers, ridiculing them in the book and online. It’s not clear that he’s actually helpful. He routinely receives complaints about unfulfilled or switched book shipments. His employees appear mostly incompetent...

The Diary of a Bookseller doesn’t seem like it should work. Life at The Book Shop is boring. On a typical day Bythell might sell £200 worth of books, once as little as £5. But there is a soothing monotony to the rhythm of his days. Bythell somehow creates a sense of urgency in the nothingness, and readers may feel that if they skip even one day, they’ll miss some winningly cutting remark.
added by SnootyBaronet | editQuartzy, Thu-Huong Ha
 
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George Orwell non aveva nessuna voglia di fare il libraio, e devo dire che lo capisco benissimo.
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AUTOBIOGRAPHY: GENERAL. 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 tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky. He takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye.… (more)

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