Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop in Wigtown – Scotland’s largest second-hand book store. On its shelves are 100,000 volumes featuring such niche interests as Antarctic exploring and trains.
The memoir is a diary of a year in Shaun’s life as a bookseller, full of the follies of customers who browse but don’t buy, customers who ask for discounts, and ski-suit wearing employees who dumpster dive and bring their spoils into the bookshop.
Friday, October 24 – “Nicky arrived with a substance that bore no resemblance to food. ‘Chocolate eclairs. Delicious.’ And so began another Foodie Friday.”
Bythell deals with obstinate customers and even more obstinate booksellers – who sometimes show up for work, and sometimes not. Nicky dons her ski suit from October through April, partly because the shop is cold, but mostly because she’s unique.
When a customer comes to the counter with some maps of Ireland and demands to know the year in which each was published and goes on to explain that he’s doing his family history research, Bythell writes, “I am going to get a mask and paint “I DON’T CARE” on the forehead and put it on when such occasions arise in the future.” He is worn down by the insipid comments and demands of his customers. When a customer prefaces a sentence with “I don’t want to appear rude, but . . .” he says it sets off the same alarm bells as “I am not a racist, but . . .”
At the end of each day’s chronicle, Bythell notes the total dollars received that day and the number of customers through the shop. When customers increasingly use his shop as a “browsing facility” and then buy their new books online, he takes small consolation that his used books most often sell for more online. When e-books become popular and his sales take a hit, he takes a Kindle home and shoots it with his shotgun and then mounts it on a plaque in his shop.
Bythell clearly has a dry sense of humor, and in his business, he needs it. If you’re a bookseller or a former bookseller, or have ever wondered what it would be like to be a bookseller – or even if you are just a book lover, you’ll enjoy The Diary of a Bookseller.