Bythell is the owner of The Book Shop in Wigtown, Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop, and takes us through a year in the life of a bookseller in this drily humourous memoir. Each month opens with an extract from George Orwell’s Bookshop Memories and a discussion of how things have changed or not as the case may be. Nothing drastic happens in this book but the way he presents the day-to-day workings of a secondhand bookshop and the eccentric characters he encounters is entertaining. He is derogatory towards staff and customers alike but does have the odd moment of reflection where he sees something of interest in a customer or seller.
His disdain is never more forceful than when it comes to amazon (the broken kindle that he shot is displayed proudly on the wall, leaving no doubt as to where he stands on the issue of e-readers and the behemoth that is devouring so many retailers). He describes how the rise of amazon has made bookselling a far less profitable pursuit and refuses to share his knowledge with customers who he suspects will use it to make their purchase online. The book gives an insight into the changing landscape of bookselling over the decade and a half that he’s been running the shop.
Not only do we learn about books but also snippets of local history, behind the scenes glimpses of the Wigtown Book Festival, and a whole array of facts that arise from buying trips and obscure titles. For all his grumbles, and the painfully low takings listed at the end of each day, Bythell’s sheer love of books shines through. A treat of a read and one in which booksellers past and present will find a lot to relate to.