Book Review: Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Earlier this year I raved about The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell (read the review here). When my aged mother came to stay for a few days in the summer, she was browsing our bookshelves to find something to read. I recommended the Salt Path by Raynor Winn (read the review here) and I also mentioned how much I had enjoyed the Diary of a Bookseller. My mother obviously remembered that I had mentioned it as she sent me a copy for my birthday. I took it to the Free Little Library on the next street and was pleased to see that it had gone by the following morning.

Shaun has now written and published a sequel and I’m pleased to say that it is as good as the first one.

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Once again it covers the trials and tribulations of running a small business, which is never easy, even more so in these times of austerity. He doesn’t shy away from some of the difficulties in his life at the time, although you know that the way he talks about his staff is very tongue-in-cheek. He still isn’t a fan of Amazon, which isn’t too surprising. In the last couple of years I have tried to use Amazon less and less, and have definitely become a regular in our local bookshop.

After reading his two books I feel like I know him and his staff (Nicky, Flo and Granny), along with his spoilt cat. On our recent cycling trip around Northern Ireland we looked at stopping off in Wigtown on our way home, but it was a Sunday and justifiably he would be closed.

I bought this book in hardback on Friday afternoon and finished it Sunday morning, and I felt slightly sad when I came to the end. Not because the end of the book is sad, but because the book was finished. Indeed, the epilogue is optimistic for the future, which is good to hear. I still can’t join the random book club though.

Book Review: The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

This was by far one of the best books that I’ve read for a very long time. I didn’t want it to end. Shaun Bythell owns and runs a second hand book shop in Wigtown, and started to write down what went on in his shop.

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He writes about the staff who work from him, and their quirks, and the numerous customers and how books about trains are some of his biggest sellers. He notes down how many online orders there were each day, and how many of them could be found in the maze of his shop. It’s not unusual for a customer to put a book back in the wrong place, or for his staff to enter the location code into the computer incorrectly.

One theme that runs throughout the book is how Amazon have completely changed the business, and how they are squeezing every book shop in the country. Customers would even check Amazon prices when they were holding a book they wanted to buy while in full view of Shaun, or would say in a loud voice ‘it’s cheaper online’.

I also enjoyed reading about the process of buying used books. People would ring up and ask Shaun to visit and buy job lots. Often most of the books are old and not in a very good condition or are just unlikely to sell. Other times people wander into the shop with a couple of boxes or bags full of books to sell.

Opening the book at a random page;

orders online 5, books found 4. There was another invasion of lycra-clad septuagenarian cyclists this morning, most of whom bought a book or two, and who were flattering about both the shop and the stock.

The shop also had a Random Book Club, with approximately 160 members, who for ¬£59 a year would receive a good quality random book each month, mixed between fiction and non-fiction. Brilliant idea. However, when I looked online about joining, it was closed to new members, so I assume that the success of this book has helped with the physical shop. Let’s hope so.

I used to love browsing in a second hand book shop, and there used to be a good one in the Oxford covered market, but when I returned last year it had closed. There is a fairly recent second hand book opened in Lancaster, but I am sorry to say that I have never been in. This I will rectify, post haste.

As I said at the start, I loved this book and you will too.