Review of ‘The Diary of a Bookseller’ by Shaun Bythell

Shaun Bythell, grumpy bookseller and owner of The Book Shop in Wigtown, Scotland, treats us to a narrative of his life from 2014. Sometimes it’s interesting, sometimes it isn’t. Great advertising for his shop, though. If I’m ever in Galloway (unlikely but you never know), I’ll be sure to visit.

The book has been described as ‘laugh out loud’ funny. I would say it is ‘smirk’ funny. It has a Black Books tone, which should appeal to fans of the sitcom. Generally I did enjoy the book, but I think it could have been more effectively edited and shortened. Do we want to know about Shaun’s fishing trips and how often he drives his partner, or collects her, from the train station? No. Lots of namedropping of people we’re supposed to have heard of? No. Number of books ordered online, number of books found for these orders, number of customers in the shop, plus till takings, every single day? No! Do we want a focus on the amusing things customers say, the exploits of the cat (named Captain), the amazing books in the collection? Yes.

What I liked about the book, apart from the information about what makes books valuable and sought after, was the sense of place, with many recurring colourful characters of Wigtown. The sparring between Shaun and his employee Nicky (they are both very different kinds of people) was great material, too. The book is also evidence of the threat to second-hand bookshops from new technology: Amazon Marketplace, Print on Demand services and the rise of e-books. Shaun hates e-books and Amazon so much that he shot a Kindle device and hung it like a hunting trophy in the shop. It seems extreme but I know a lot of bibliophiles feel the same. He is definitely a snob, though – there are snide remarks about self-publishing and public libraries, and no consideration of people either not having the money to spend on books or needing alternative formats to physical printed books. But then this diary is not about what books mean to people and how they can access them, it’s about books as objects to be possessed and collected. A diary written by a librarian would have been completely different.

I would still recommend the book but it wasn’t as good as I’d expected.

First published in 2017.

13 thoughts on “Review of ‘The Diary of a Bookseller’ by Shaun Bythell”

  1. I’m not sure about this one – think I’ll put it on the list as a maybe. Your suggestion of a librarian’s diary at the end would get a definite yes from me though – that would be fascinating!

    1. I think I’d rather read a librarian’s diary, I don’t think I’ve seen one, at least in mainstream publishing. I guess it wouldn’t be as desirable to publish as it wouldn’t be endorsing book-buying etc.

  2. I’ve heard so much about this book and will probably end up reading it. But I am not in a hurry and have a feeling I won’t find as funny as other people do. Anyway, I would definitely enjoy reading about a bookshop.

    1. It is still definitely worth a read, I hope you like it. But really it’s not that funny. I find that when a book is described as funny by the endorsements, it usually isn’t.

  3. Humor is so subjective, isn’t it? I did like the series Black Books, though I don’t remember guffawing at that. Probably a little too light on plot for me, this one, but I appreciate your review!

    1. I’ve seen Black Books but I wouldn’t re-watch it – it’s funny at times but not completely hilarious. As this book is a diary, and apparently non-fiction, there isn’t a plot as such, but it’s an interesting exploration of what it’s like to run an independent bookshop. Thanks!

    1. There are definitely some good points and I don’t regret reading it. It was from the library. I did reserve the sequel but found I wasn’t in the mood for more of the same really.

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