Scotland officially named Wigtown its "book town" in 1998, following the success of the original Book Town, Hay-on-Wye, in Wales. Ever since, the village in the country's idyllic southwest is a destination spot for book lovers. Now Wigtown native Shaun Bythell, who purchased the Book Shop in 2001, when he was 31, takes readers behind the scenes with The Diary of a Bookseller, a day-by-day record of 2014 in the store.
Bythell writes a stream-of-consciousness, detailed memoir reflecting on the book business, his relationships, colorful customers, village news and literature. His observations are hilarious. "Bev dropped off a box of the mugs onto which she's printed the cover of Gay Agony," and this snarky note on one of the parade of part-time staff: "Today was Katie's last day, so I gave her a hug as she was leaving. She hates physical contact, so it was particularly gratifying to see how uncomfortable it made her." Maintaining his stock of 100,000 titles requires numerous buying excursions, which offer rich stories if not always worthwhile books. Bythell works in the store daily and also coordinates a "Random Books" subscription service; he also manages online sales, a tricky and demanding venture. "Shop small" advocates may appreciate his opinions. He commends James Patterson's bookstore grant program and warns, "The sad truth is that, unless authors and publishers unite and stand firm against Amazon, the industry will face devastation."
Not every day is notable, and a straight-through read of The Diary of a Bookseller could be tedious. But dipping into Bythell's reflections a few days at a time is sure to bring book lovers chuckles, nods of recognition and a surge of hope for bookshops everywhere. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco