The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell


 The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell is published by Profile Books (£14.99).


Monday, 3 March

Online orders: 9

Books found: 8

Another beautiful day, marred at an early stage by a customer wearing shorts and knee-length woollen socks who knocked over a pile of books and left them lying on the floor. Shortly afterwards, a whistling customer with a ponytail and what I can only assume was a hat he’d borrowed from a clown bought a copy of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, I suspect deliberately to undermine my faith in humanity and dampen my spirits further.

A book we had sold on Amazon called Orient-Express: A Personal Journey, and which we had sent out three weeks ago was returned today with a note from the customer that reads: ‘Unfortunately not as expected. Require a more pictorial version. Please exchange or refund. I suspect that the customer was treating us like an online library and had read the book.

Till total £90

customers 4



Reading books about books is what I do when I’m not reading books. Doesn’t make a lick of sense, but bibliophiles will get it. And what’s more delightful than a snarky, acerbic daily diary written by a bookseller?

Answer: perhaps a wee kitten sleeping, but precious little else.


Cute overload.


It didn’t take long to start ordering books from, once I’d settled back in Scotland. As I slammed the last drawer in my dresser, clothing folded away, my hand’s muscle memory awoke, typing A-M-A. Google knows me. Like a crack addict, I had to have it. Like an enabler, it provided.

An unabashed Anglophile, my “Buy Later” queue of books only or more readily available in the UK is already longer than most people’s list of “books to read in my lifetime”. I pop one in the cart with every order, and I order everything from Amazon. With Prime free delivery, I’d be silly not to. The price of a taxi to and from the local mall costs the equivalent of an average paperback.

Tell me I’m not penny-wise.

Shaun Bythell’s book was the first to jump the queue. Bythell is the owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland, the largest second-hand bookshop in the country. One of the most entertaining and satisfying works of humorous nonfiction I’ve read in quite a while, I’m struggling to remember what else has made me snort-laugh so hard. Bill Bryson’s sent his share of coffee spraying out my nose. Ditto David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs.

I love a good curmudgeon, especially a man with so great a knowledge of books. Shaun Bythell doesn’t hold back. Were I ten years younger, and not living in the house of another bookish man, hoooo boy. I’d throw myself across his path.

Hey, big boy.

Summary: it’s damned funny. I don’t hand that compliment out often. It’s difficult writing funny prose. Or prose I find funny, the important point. I’m a tough audience. I don’t throw my laughs around willy-nilly. Not for me the polite laugh. If you delight me, my reaction’s genuine.

Read this book if you love books. Read it even harder if used books are your thing, hardest yet if you have a streak of evil a mile wide.

N.B.: I must lodge one little complaint: I sent The Bookshop a Facebook message inquiring if they have any novels by Muriel Spark. I need to replenish my supply and thought what better way to compensate the man who’d just entertained me with his biting wit for several days, but never received a response.

It’s been over a week now, and nothing. Sorry, I may love your book, but I take my book buying awfully seriously. I’ll have to take my business elsewhere this time. Now I’ve given you a reason to snipe at me.

Feel free to run with it. I can take it.



2 thoughts on “The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

  1. I’m afraid the sniping got to me in the end. I was brought up in a small corner shop where you simply couldn’t afford to treat customers like that. I can only assume he must have some other form of income as well as the shop to be able to be so caviller.


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