Written by Books

Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Confessions of a Bookseller

One of the funniest books I read last year was The Diary of a Bookseller, which in diary form, relates the trials and tribulations of running a second hand bookshop in the small Galloway town of Wigtown.

Bythell has a caustic wit – sometimes directly shared with customers who behave in stupid manners, and sometimes in thoughts only as he records his diary entries. Each day is accompanied by details of how many books he’s sold online as well as how many customers came through the door and how much he’s taken through the till.

In this sequel, we roll on into the following year, and we continue to understand what it means to run some kind of book-based business in the early twenty-first century when there is Amazon. (And yes, I realise that I’ve provided Amazon links to both his titles in this piece. I would recommend buying his books in bookshops – but if you do choose Amazon, I earn a few pence. And Blythell himself uses Amazon as he explains in the book.)

Beyond selling books in the shop and online, there are a range of other things that he and the town of Wigtown do themselves – notably organising their annual festival. Indeed a big part of being a modern day bookseller seems to be about being as entrepreneurial as you can be.

But it’s also about relationships. Things aren’t going so well between Blythell and his partner, and these are lightly touched upon. And then there are the various others who work in the shop. There’s Nicky, who loves to explore the skip outside the back of Morrisons and present her findings for “Foodie Fridays”; there’s Flo, who’s a surly teenager heading to university; and we also meet Granny – a young Italian who seems to be something of a hypochondriac.

Beyond relating stories about the kind of person who spends hours in a bookshop and buys nothing, complains if they can’t get a discount for a £2.50, or simply points out that there’s a copy of the same book for 1p on Amazon, Blythell also takes us into the book-buying side of things. He’s regularly traipsing around the Scottish countryside in his van buying books from people – or just as likely not buying them if they don’t think he’s offering enough.

This second book by Blythell is from prior to his first book being published, and becoming something of a hit. So as yet, the “fame” that book may have brought him has yet to be reflected. I suspect that life has changed somewhat since these books were published. Certainly don’t go idly thinking you might book a week at The Open Book on Airbnb (you sort of stay there and run a bookshop while you’re there) – it’s basically booked solid.

I raced through this – smiling and laughing out loud at some points. It does sound an enormous amount of fun running a bookshop as Blythell tells it, although I suspect that it really isn’t. And I probably do need to re-read William Boyd’s The New Confessions.