If you enjoyed The Diary of a Bookseller, then the second volume of Shaun Bythell’s account of running a large second-hand bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland will definitely appeal. It is very much more of the same in terms of content, format and sense of humour with bizarre customer queries and the trials and tribulations of book dealing providing the main focus of his diary entries from 2015.
Running a second-hand bookshop might sound like a dream job for many people but anyone who has worked in retail or a customer-facing role will appreciate the frustrations caused by difficult customers that Bythell recounts here, especially those who attempt to haggle over a £1.50 paperback, openly search for titles on Amazon while browsing the shop or give lengthy anecdotes at the till which are impossible to escape from. However, it is also reassuring to see that book dealing is an occupation which only attracts those who are genuinely knowledgeable and passionate about it rather than those seeking to rip people off (after all, there are plenty of other industries which are far more financially lucrative). As well as running the shop, the reality of bookselling in the 21st century means that Bythell spends a lot of time selling books online via eBay, AbeBooks and Amazon. He regularly travels to auctions and house clearances in order to purchase stock and I particularly enjoyed how he conveys the feeling of excitement that the next auction may hold some rare and interesting titles – the same feeling of anticipation that many readers will experience when entering a bookshop.
Other than the end of Bythell’s relationship with Anna, it is mostly business as usual regarding the supporting cast of characters such as Nicky, a fellow employee who often sources her food from the bins next to Morrisons, and Sandy, a tattooed pagan and regular customer. The arrival of Emanuela, the Italian intern with a huge appetite who earns the nickname Granny due to her many ailments and poor eyesight, provides much entertainment during her three month stay in Wigtown over the summer. Even Bythell develops a soft spot for her in the end.
‘Confessions of a Bookseller’ is written with a pleasingly dry sense of humour – Bythell’s curmudgeonly approach towards his colleagues and customers may not be to everyone’s taste but it certainly appeals to mine. Highly recommended for all bibliophiles, particularly those with a nerdy interest in the niche areas of bookselling. Many thanks to Profile Books for sending me a copy of ‘Confessions of a Bookseller’ via NetGalley.