All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Confessions Of A Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

on November 15, 2019

Confessions Of A Bookseller
Shaun Bythell
Profile Books
2019, 328p
Copy courtesy Allen & Unwin

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Being a bookseller is no fairytale.

Shaun Bythell is the owner of Scotland’s largest second hand bookshop. But if you think his days are taken up with sorting through rare and valuable first editions, snoozing by the fire with the latest literary gem, or chatting with interesting, well informed readers….think again.

Bookselling, Shaun reveals in his sequel to the bestselling The Diary of a Bookseller, is far from the idyll you might imagine. Beset by bizarre requests from customers who appear not to know what a shop is, locked in an endless struggle with Amazon and terrorised by his bin-diving, poultice-making employees, Shaun documents his trials and tribulations with a sharp eye and an even sharper wit.

This is the inside story of a life lived in books: from the pleasures of the unexpected find to the friendships forged over shared tastes and the sadness of finishing a really good book, Confessions of a Bookseller will delight and inform until the very last page.

Last year I got The Diary of a Bookseller for my birthday and I really enjoyed it. In some ways…..the idea of Shaun Bythell’s life is ideal. He lives above the bookshop so he basically has no commute to work. He’s surrounded by thousands of books every day and gets to sell them and talk books to people for a living. But it’s not as idyllic as it sounds – the customers are confusing and baffling at times, downright inconsiderate at others. He spends a lot of time travelling looking at book collections and sorting through the Dan Browns and the John Grishams for interesting titles for the shop, dealing with people who constantly think he’s ripping them off. And there’s a plethora of other expenses that come with living and working in an old building and his staff are eccentric and often make his job harder, rather than easier.

Second-hand bookshops are almost a thing of the past. I honestly can’t think of where the closest one to me is. There isn’t one in my town. When I was growing up there were several in the town I lived in – I remember trading in my Baby-Sitters Club books for store credit and then later on, my Sweet Valley High Books. They were a good option for new books, because I’d immediately spend my newly acquired store credit and come home with new books. There is actually one second hand bookshop still in that town and I’ve visited it when I’ve been up seeing my family. I’ve always picked up a few things there and I could easily spend hours fossicking through a secondhand bookshop….there just aren’t many around to do that anymore.

Shaun Bythell’s humour is probably not going to be to everyone’s taste – he’s quite abrupt and often rude. He has little tolerance for idiots (of which he seems to attract a disproportionate amount?). But I enjoy his often acerbic recaps of interactions with people who come into his shop, the buyers and browsers alike as well as people who want to sell him books. Everyone believes their book collections are worth quite a bit of money, often not realising that there are a lot of books that there isn’t a second hand market for, because no one else is interested or the market is already flooded with them, or that the resale value isn’t as much as they assume. There are books that always sell well, things like railway books, which Bythell is as baffled as I am about, local area type books, guide books, books on Scottish history and castles. Bythell includes such information in each daily entry as: orders received online (from either Amazon or Abe), amount of customers and total of books sold. The totals seem higher than what I remember from the first book so perhaps the publication of that has really helped bring a lot more customers to the store. There’s also the Facebook page where they post interesting and amusing postcards that they receive from people all around the world. The shop has almost become like a tourist destination after the first book (I know I’d like to go see it but considering I’m in Australia and it’s in Scotland, it seems rather unlikely!).

It’s also very interesting to read a bookseller’s take on things like the rise of eBooks, online shopping and the like. I’m a voracious book consumer and I consume books in literally any way that I can: I buy them both in print and in eBook variety, I receive titles for review also both in print and in eBook, I visit my local library (which is excellent), I borrow them from friends (and lend to friends), I have bought from second hand stores as well, when I’ve come across them. But it is sad that they are so few and far between though now. When I’ve had to offload books in the past, a lot of the time they’ve gone to charity shops, who sell them for a couple of bucks each in a practice that also infringes upon the sales of second hand bookstores. But I’ve had to do that simply because there aren’t really many other options. I give away what I can and some of what I have would probably not be of much interest to second hand stores anyway, given that it would be mostly popular fiction that can be found in most places. Bythell doesn’t particularly go into this and I’m not sure if it’s an issue in Scotland, but I do wonder at the department stores selling brand new books here for about $16 when the RRP is $29.95. Being able to buy brand new for close to what a 2nd hand price would probably be for a relatively new book would definitely also impact on the sales made in second hand stores. I also have to face the fact that in the future, I’m probably going to have to decrease my purchase of books in print and increase my eBook purchases because I just simply do not have the room for an infinite number of books. My house is already running out of room – I have six overflowing bookshelves already and very little room for any more. I know I’m contributing to the Amazon machine…..but how not to? And still be able to read in the way that I enjoy? Definitely makes me think about what my book consuming will be like in the future and how I will manage my love of print books with my desire to not become something from a hoarding TV show where I could potentially die and be found buried under a pile of 7,000 books in six months time.

This is amusing, clever and gives me much food for thought. I look forward to hopefully, a third instalment.


Book #190 of 2019

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