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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!
17 of 17 people found this review helpful
I listened to this at a difficult and chaotic time in my life and I found it very enjoyable. A gentle book, which has a magic that is hard to explain. It really is a diary with no particular plot, but the little glimpses of daily life and pen pictures of staff and customers make this book memorable. I really enjoyed it.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful