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  • Gaili Schoen

The Diary of a Bookseller


"When I worked in a second-hand bookshop – so easily pictured, if you don’t work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios – the thing that chiefly struck me was the rarity of really bookish people. Our shop had an exceptionally interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew a good book from a bad one. First edition snobs were much commoner than lovers of literature, but oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks were commoner still, and vague-minded women looking for birthday presents for their nephews were commonest of all.


Many of the people who came to us were of the kind who would be a nuisance anywhere but have special opportunities in a bookshop. For example, the dear old lady who ‘wants a book for an invalid’ (a very common demand, that), and the other dear old lady who read such a nice book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately she doesn’t remember the title or the author’s name or what the book was about, but she does remember that it had a red cover. But apart from these there are two well-known types of pest by whom every second-hand bookshop is haunted. One is the decayed person smelling of old bread crusts who comes every day, sometimes several times a day, and tries to sell you worthless books. The other is the person who orders large quantities of books for which he has not the smallest intention of paying. In our shop we sold nothing on credit, but we would put books aside, or order them if necessary, for people who arranged to fetch them away later. Scarcely half the people who ordered books from us ever came back. It used to puzzle me at first. What made them do it? They would come in and demand some rare and expensive book, would make us promise over and over again to keep it for them, and then would vanish never to return." - Shaun Bythell, The Diary of a Bookseller


Diary of a Bookseller is the antidote for anyone who has always fantasized about owning a book shop. This Wigtown (notable Book Town in Scotland) book shop owner recounts his daily till total (never very much), the number of books that were ordered online (never very many), and details of conversations with customers (not usually very nice). Shaun Bythell has a dry, sarcastic sense of humor which is amusing at times, but mostly the story just drags on just as his bookseller life does, with tedious repetition. I gave up at about 75% completion; life is just too short, and there are too many great books on my TBR pile, to force myself to persevere. However, I do believe that many who love books and bookstores will absolutely love this book, hence this review with long quotes from the book which might either entice or dishearten you.


"I often wonder why he orders books through me when he could so easily do so on Amazon. Perhaps he does not own a computer. Perhaps he does not want one. Or perhaps he is one of the dying breed who understand that, if they want bookshops to survive, they have to support them."


⭐⭐⭐/5 on GoodReads Hardcover 316 pages, Audiobook 9 hrs 42 minutes

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