George Orwell’s 1936 essay Bookshop Memories (the text of which which may be found here) recounts his reactions to a short career in bookselling. He wasn’t exactly enthusiastic. A few years ago we might have kept our fingers crossed when reading his confident forecast “The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman.”  — Now it’s the combines which are in trouble, and I think we are all feeling a good deal more confident about the future of the small independent bookseller — almost as confident as George Orwell did.

Shaun Bythell, owner of The Book Shop in Wigtown, Scotland, a used book store, starts each month of his The Diary of a Bookseller (Melville House, 2018) with an extract from Orwell’s essay and a brief comment about it.  The Book Shop is surprisingly large as you can see from this video, the making of which is described in the book.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post and view it in your browser.

The Diary of a Bookseller is predictably in day-by-day format and covers one year (2014-15). Mr Bythell writes an accessible, friendly prose commenting wryly on the frequent emergencies of bookshop life. He tracks the daily number of customers, amount of money in the till, and online orders. What surprised me most perhaps is how much money was involved, and at the same time paradoxically how little of it there was. He also recounts many purchasing forays: one feels that by the end of the year he must have had a lot more stock than at the beginning. As he says in the video “I’ve got more stock than an Oxo cube”.

Customers, as Orwell suggested, inevitably present problems, though discretion perhaps prevents too much open rudeness about them. My queasiness about the entire book is probably the result of a suspicion that the tone of his account of the book world is pretty much the same as mine would be. He often says things of the sort which I am quietly reminded are not as funny as I like to think they are. He even touches on one or two oddities of the book world which I’ve chosen to write about here in the past. Much fun is poked at Nicky, a surprisingly knowledgeable if somewhat erratic assistant, who leads off the rap performance in the video above (the third performer being Anna, Mr Bythell’s American girlfriend).

But despite any reservations I did like the book, and since, with this format, you can’t really have one without the other, I liked the author too, including the books he told us he was reading at the time he was writing his diary. I’m definitely not visiting Wigtown. I might decide to stay.

The Melville House webpage (linked to above) has a nice video featuring Mr Bythell’s helpful advice on Kindle repair. Making videos is one of his sidelines.