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I loved this book. Shaun Bethyll has owned and run Scotland’s largest second hand book shop in Wigtown on the coast of Galloway for 14 years. He’s wildly and wonderfully idiosyncratic, driven by passion and prodigious energy as he travels all over buying up books (some harrowing visits looking through the treasured collections of those forced by age or bereavement to downsize when he feels he’s ‘erasing all they were’); organising the essential online sales, the Random Book Club as well as the now very successful Wigtown Book Festival – and dealing with the daily flow (frequently only the slightest trickle) of customers whose eccentricities and downright rudeness Bethyll makes hugely entertaining.
“When are ye having the bonfire?” asks one offensively; others constantly haggle over the price, stalk off angrily when refused a huge discount; are convinced that their bag of old books fit only for re-cycling are worth good money; only want something if it’s free, whilst some even pencil in a low price whilst amongst the stacks and then present it for payment. They spend hours reading a heap of books from the shelves by the fire, only to leave at closing time having bought nothing and leaving the books to be re-shelved. One man left his false teeth balanced on Tommy Blair’s Autobiography.(Was he making some kind of statement?)
I’m going to miss Bythell’s eccentric right-hand woman Nicky who is usually late (on occasion delayed by dropping an éclair on herself whilst driving) and rarely does what is asked of her. Every ‘Foodie Friday’ she comes with a bag of ‘delicacies’ from the supermarket skip, warning Bythell off one particular nauseating lump of cinnamon swirl because she’d already licked the icing off it
Bythell’s caustic wit (never cruel or judgemental, just sharply observant) is an absolute joy, but there’s a very serious and sometimes angry side to it all in the sheer grind of keeping a bookshop as splendid as this one going in this age of online sales. (His framed smashed Kindle on the wall is much admired by customers). It’s seen in his daily modest totals of ‘online sales’; ‘books found’; ‘till takings’ recorded throughout the year of this diary, and in the necessity for selling the odd no-longer needed local disability scooter or commode alongside the books; and no less in his painful back which is the result of lugging 1000s of books around. The experience of the customer from Kent’s joy at finding an old Latin Primer with his father’s schoolboy’s name in it was uplifting (Bythell gave it him free).
I loved the Scottishness of it, the Scots cadences and language so well created by Robin Laing; the isolated position of Wigtown, Bythell’s inclusion of the weather (significant when the cold whistles through the book stacks); his appreciation of his salmon fishing and October sea-swimming. Pure pleasure – get listening!
14 of 14 people found this review helpful
I found this diverting until the sentence beginning 'A man in a cheap polyester suit'...when I realised I no longer wanted to tolerate the smug self-satisfied attitude of the author. The man in the suit might have been foolish; he might have been mistaken and he might have been a little egotistical, thinking Blythell woud remember him after he bought a book five years ago. But his suit was nothing to do with it. Mentioning it was a cheap value judgement which revealed far more about the author than the person wearing it. When you read a book like this you are invited to see the world from the author's point of view. I could no longer do that; and wished then I hadn't bothered to try.. More than once I found myself irritated by the author's elitism, but until that sentence I hadn't been irritated enough to stop listening.
Very well read by Robin Laing, but the content wasn't sufficient to keep my interest..
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
The dry delivery of the narrator on the daily life & odd clients (&staff!) that visit the bookshop ranges from the hilarious to the depressing. How on earth does he stagger on? It makes you want to go to an independent bookshop & buy a few books right away.