Diary of a Bookseller (Bythell)

The Diary of a Bookseller 
Shaun Bythell, 2017
Profile Books, Ltd.
320 pp.

Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown — Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea.

A book-lover's paradise? Well, almost …

In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky.

He 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 rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1970
Where—Wigtown, Scotland, UK
Education—Trinity College, Dublin
Currently—lives in Wigtown, Scotland

Shaun Bythell is a Scotish bookseller and the author of the memoir, The Diary of a Bookseller (2017). Bythell was raised in Wigtown (Galloway), Scotland, where his father was a farmer. He remembers the bookstore he now owns opening in the 1980s and thinking it wouldn't survive. He went away to Trinity College, eventually leaving Trinity without his intended law degree. From there, as he puts it, he bummed "about for a bit," doing some work laying pipelines, then as a researcher for TV documentaries — neither job he envisioned himself spending the rest of his life on.

Eventually, in 2001, Bythell returned to his hometown, wandered into the bookshop he watched open in the '80s, and learned it was for sale. Now, the very bookshop he thought wouldn't survive is his, and it's up to him to try to make sure it does. (Adapted from The Herald.)

Book Reviews
Bythell is a true believer, who makes a passionate case for the importance of books — real, paper-and-board books, yellowed by time and handled, smudged and annotated by generations. This is, after all, a man who shot a Kindle and wall-mounted it — and after reading his wonderfully entertaining book, I’m just about ready to follow suit.
Alice O'Keeffe - Guardian

Warm, witty and laugh-out-loud funny, this gently meandering tale of British eccentricity will stay long in the memory.
Daily Mail

The Diary Of A Bookseller is warm (unlike Bythell's freezing-cold shop) and funny, and deserves to become one of those bestsellers that irritate him so much.
Jon Dennis - Mail on Sunday

Peopled with fascinating characters ... a sarcastic reminder of the struggles of small business ownership, the importance of community and the frustration of dealing with customers ... occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.
Herald (Scotland)

Wonderfully entertaining.

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, please use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for The Diary of a Bookseller … then take off on your own:

1. How would you describe Shaun Bythell? Does "grumpy old man" hit the mark? Is he truly a curmudgeon? Or, given the customers he deals with on a daily basis, does he have reason to be a tad acerbic?

2. Talk about Bythell's customers. What about those who seemingly spend hours among the shelves but never purchase a book? Or the ones who threaten to go home and buy a title online? Do you see yourself in some of those people? Given Bythell's less-than-flattering descriptions, would you have the courage to walk through his door?

3. Speaking of buying books online, discuss the economics of the bookselling trade — especially the power that Amazon and other large chain stores have vis-a-vis smaller, independent brick & mortar shops.

4. Given the seemingly never ending challenges his bookstore faces (i.e., difficult customers and difficult economics), why does Bythell continue? He says he loves his work? What specifically does he love?

5. What is Bythell's case for books, the paper and ink kind, over digital readers?

6. What curious fact about the book trade surprises you most: that first editions are not usually all that valuable, for instance, or that people who ask about Bibles, never buy them? What about men and railway books?

7. "On the whole (in my shop at least) the majority of fiction is still bought by women, while men rarely buy anything other than nonfiction." Care to make a comment? Perhaps things are different in the US than the UK? What about spy thrillers: do men read them more frequently than women do?

8. What does Bythell have to say about the long-term survival of books and bookshops? What does he see as the future of the book trade? What do you see?

9. What do you think of Bythell's staff? Who do you find more endearing … or amusing?

10.  Talk about how Bythell sources his bookstore — about the auctions and estate sales he attends.

11. What incidents or passages or quips do you find especially funny in The Diary of a Bookseller?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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