No synopsis is really needed for this memoir because the title speaks for itself – The Diary of a Bookseller. That’s all it is. Daily journal entries by Shaun Bythell, a bookseller who owns one the second largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland – The Bookshop. Not exactly inventive but as they say, simplicity is often the best so as to focus more on substance rather than appearance.
Unfortunately, ‘never judge a book by its cover’ rang true as substance felt lacking compared to the eclectic look of the paperback cover and the cat in amongst all the books which as all of us cat-lovers know often leads to hilarity. This hilarity described in the blurbs and reviews was lacking and what other people might describe as funny, I found to be dismissive, rude, and often ableist. I could understand his point of view and lack of patience where ignorant and blatantly wrong customers were concerned – one particular customer tries to persuade him that Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy is meant to be Far From the Maddening Crowd when the book is right there in front of him and says publishers have printed the title wrong since the book’s initial publication – and I too tired of Nicky, the annoying shop assistant who constantly insisted on dumpster diving for food and had little to no respect for anything, but most of the time, his general attitude left a lot to be desired.
What hit me the most was his repetitiveness in the mundane, and his seething discontent towards Amazon, the popularity of Kindles, and libraries. Yes Amazon has had a significant knock-on effect to the publishing and book-buying industry, but at the same time, e-readers such as the Kindle have brought reading to a wider audience and made it more accessible. This isn’t really the place to stand on a soapbox and declare my opinions to the world at large but for me, the Kindle is a godsend in allowing me the opportunity to read books I otherwise would struggle with due to small font sizes – certain chunky classics and high fantasy for example. I get that some people don’t like them, but there is a line between not liking them and refusing how useful they can be a variety of people. He started to sound like an ex-university housemate of mine who was an invariable book snob and always discussed literature with an infuriating air of superiority. In fact, they’d be good friends. In a small place like Wigtown in Scotland, it is easy to be narrow-minded and ignorant but that should be no excuse when it comes to encouraging people to support second-hand bookshops and reading in general. I actually think it’s very counter-intuitive.
Putting these bad attitudes aside, I do think he does a good job of highlighting the second-hand book industry and behind-the-scenes aspects of owning your own shop, most of which is often naively and idyllically portrayed in the media. He doesn’t rose-tint the reality for us which is refreshing and what I often expect from a memoir. I also quite enjoyed the George Orwell insights he includes at the beginning of a new month. They made for a nice transition between the months and gave us a brief preface to what we might expect to learn and understand whilst reading Bythell’s daily entries. The only small criticism I have in regards to the structure of the narrative is that the diary as a whole felt incomplete. We have the last entry and then it cuts to a few short sentences about what happened since initially writing the entries. I don’t know why exactly, but it just felt a little jarring and I finished it this morning – at an ungodly hour because sleep is clearly for the wicked – thinking that it was rushed and similar to an afterthought added in at the last minute.
As a whole, I’m not one hundred percent sure how to rate this book. My annoyance with the author’s mentality and personality leads me to think it shouldn’t deserve a decent rating as it was heavily prevalent, but it had some gems I did find likeable.
I think my only option is to go straight down the middle with a rating of:
Have you read Diary of a Bookseller?
What are your thoughts?
Thanks for reading and have a brazzle dazzle day!