The Bookshop, Wigtown, is Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. It’s a booklover’s paradise, a Georgian townhouse full of twisting corridors and roaring fires, set in a beautiful town by the edge of the sea. A rummage on its crooked shelves can produce anything from a sixteenth-century leather-bound Bible to a first edition Agatha Christie.
But behind the scenes of this slice of literary heaven, things are very different. Meet Shaun Bythell, owner of The Bookshop, bibliophile and misanthrope extraordinaire. Seen through his honest and wryly hilarious diaries, we get a very different view of bookselling: one beset with malfunctioning heating, eccentric customers, bad-mannered, bin-foraging employees and a perennially empty till.
As Shaun takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the charms and horrors of small town life, we gain an inside look at the trials, tribulations and joys of life in the book trade.
A year in the life of Shaun, owner of The Book Shop, written in diary format and so very accessible and easy to read. A topic that interests me as a book lover and with dreams of selling books, this book offers a stark account of the struggles of the independent book shop. We’re all aware of the sad demise of the high street due to the broadening spectrum of the supermarket plus the sales aspect of the internet, both of which can and do consistently undercut the independent retailer.
This book highlights the community around the shop, the locals working there and customers of the shop, furthermore Shaun, involved with the Wigmore Festival is an active member of the community doing far more than running a book shop. For each diary entry Shaun includes, in Bridget Jones Fashion, Online Book Orders made and fulfilled, plus number of customers and cash in the till. Some days struck me as depressingly lean, refuelling my anxiety of the loss of social contact that comes with local shops, I guess that is the point and it makes it well.
As well as detailing the activities of Shaun we learn about the fascinating interactions within the shop. A crew of staff, all feisty characters none of who seemed to consistently do as Shaun wants with Nicky, Shaun’s permanent assistant being the icing on the cake, quite literally on Foodie Friday which repeatedly made me laugh and cringe at the same time – you need to read this book to find out more! This combined with customers and friends all with their own idiosyncrasies, plus a festival to organise make for an entertaining read.
I finished this book with a renewed commitment to try harder to support my local independent shops, especially book shops and try to remember the value of being in a bookstore when I am tempted to buy books online and appreciating that money isn’t the only cost when making these decisions.
I had seen this book in store and had actually stroked it (I do occasionally do this, don’t we all??), I was subsequently lucky enough to win a signed copy run on the blog of Stuart at https://alwaystrustinbooks.wordpress.com/ so special thanks to him and Shaun for my copy of this book.