Review by Julie Barham
A further book recording life in all its humour and honesty, this is a brilliant read which captures so much from the perspective of Shaun Bythell, owner and chief bookbuyer/seller in The Bookshop, Wigtown in Scotland. It is an enjoyable continuation of the previous two books, Confessions of a Bookseller and The Diary of a Bookseller. Using the same format, Bythell, the owner of a largely secondhand bookshop, writes of the daily events in the shop. These include those who help in the shop, the customers both local and visiting, and details of the stock which Bythell has extensive knowledge of as he normally acquires it. I really enjoyed reading this book. I have been moving house, and this is an immensely soothing and safe book to indulge in. For those who love books there is plenty of bookish chat. For those who enjoy reading diaries this is a well-established format from Bythell, recording the minutiae of the number of customers through the doors throughout the year every single day, and how much was taken in the till. For those who enjoy comments on the local area and activities there is much to learn as activities and trips are referred to as Bythell is not confined to the shop.
The chief strength of this book, however, is the wonderful descriptions of the characters that come into the shop. Regular visitors are usually given nicknames, their noticeable traits are highlighted in a kind way and often comedy ensues. There are those who burrow through the stock and ask daft questions, others bring in bags of books frequently convinced that they are worth a fortune (they are often disappointed), those who are completely missing the point of a bookshop. Bythell is never cruel but is frequently left speechless; he has after all written a small book entitled Seven Kinds of People You Meet in Bookshops. He also refers to those who help in the shop, including those who are eager to get experience of bookselling, and their idiosyncrasies; previous books have referred to staff with a taste for bin diving and other oddities, and in this volume “Granny”, a young Italian woman, once more becomes a long running helper. Not that her general goodwill prevents a daily ritual insult or her appalling cooking from being mentioned. Special events also merit a series of mentions in this book, as the book festival demands much attention and preparation. The shop becomes a hub for writers speaking at events and Bythell hosts the “Writers’ Retreat” and keeps it supplied with refreshments. This proves to be quite an undertaking but brings much needed business to the shop and town. Although I have visited the shop on two occasions, I must admit I am surprised to read accounts of all the rooms and spaces available for visitors, storage and a temperamental and expensive boiler. Maybe a map would help?
Altogether this is a book that I found to be a comfort read with a lively edge. As Bythell records the weather and the minor events of each day there is much to enjoy. I found his book buying trips fascinating as he is invited into the houses of various people to value and often buy books of interest. While his van seems to be a regular tardis in terms of capacity, I can readily believe that his back is adversely affected! It transpires that this book covers 2016 and there are hints that it may be the final one in the series. I wondered how he and the shop fared with the challenges of 2020 – an Epilogue states that he “adored it” as a three month holiday in his favourite place in the world. Happily, since then he also says that the shop has “never been so busy”. I can honestly say that Bythell’s books have accompanied me through some challenging times, and I recommend his dry humour, faithful recording, and the insights into the fascinating world of bookselling in all its ups and downs.
Julie blogs at Northern Reader
Shaun Bythell, Remainders of the Day (Profile, 2023). 978-1800812437, 384pp., paperback.
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