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Confessions of a Bookseller

· Fine Book Collecting,Shaun Bythell,Confessions,Bookseller,Wigtown

Let me start this first musing in 2021 by wishing everyone a Happy New Year. And what a start to the year, watching the unbelievable mayhem in Washington. Let us hope that 2021 settles down in a hurry. What a change we are going to see with Biden – a return to decency and, Holy Smokes, it might be a long time before he lies and makes up nonsense.

On with the musing. For Christmas, I received an intriguing book – Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, David R. Godine, Publisher, Boston, 2020. The British edition was published a year earlier.

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Shaun Bythell is the owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland. I had never heard of Wigtown, so I went off to google it. It lies close to The Irish Sea, in South West Scotland. Wigtown was officially designated as Scotland’s National Book Town in 1998. Evidently, Scotland held a competition to determine what town or city could be so designated, in the spirit of promoting tourism, and finding the Scottish equivalent of Hay-on-Wye that sits on the English and Welsh border and is likely the most famous book town in the world. And The Bookshop is the largest second hand bookshop in Scotland.

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This book is the daily journal of Bythell for the year 2015. Each daily entry starts with the number of online orders received and the number of orders found. And there is most often a discrepancy! And each daily entry ends with the Till Total and number of customers that contributed to the total. In between, he recounts the more interesting events of the day – staff, friends, customers, people selling or trying to sell books to him and so on.

As a bookseller, and as a customer of bookshops for over 50 years, I could relate very well with the author’s commentary. And there are great stories and titbits. It wasn’t long before I said to myself that I should note on what page can be found the real good “bon mots”. Then I decided that I could share these in a musing. And I am just up to Friday, 1 May. So, there may well be a follow-on musing down the road.

Wednesday, 14 January
Telephone call at 2:15

Caller: Have you any books concerning the First World War?

Me: Yes, we have a few hundred

Caller: Are they a fair size?

Wednesday, 25 February
Nicky (staff member extraordinaire): I’ve got two pals who are twins who’ve been……

Me: Twins? Are they identical?

Nicky: Sometimes, aye.

Monday, 16 March
An American customer came to the counter at 4p.m. and asked “Do you have any old maps?”

Me: Yes, how old?

Customer: Quite old. What’s your oldest book?

Me: At the moment, it’s this one here. It was published in 1582.

Customer: Wow! That’s, like, 300 years old.

Monday, 23 March
Two elderly customers came in at 11 a.m. and left after five minutes, saying “Eeeh, you could spend all day in here, couldn’t you”
Well, apparently not.

Friday, 10 April
In the inbox today was this e-mail from an Amazon customer:

I'm looking for a book but I can’t remember the title. Its around about 1951. Part of the story line is about a cart of apples being upset, that’s all I know. Its for a friend who I want to surprise.

Can you help please?

Kind Regards

Monday, 13 April
An old man approached me as I was pricing up stock and asked, “I wonder if you can help me, I’m looking for self-help books.” I’m almost certain that he failed to see the irony, so I asked him what sort of self-help books he was looking for, to which he replied “I don’t know.”

Friday, 24 April
At 10 a.m. a customer brought three books to the counter:

Me: That comes to £24 please.

Customer: £24? What? Those two are £2 each.

Me: Yes, but that one is £20.

Customer: But it looks just like the other two.

Friday, 24 April 2015 (note that I emphasized the year 2015) This last snippet follows the story line where Tracy, a friend of the author, was looking for a job and there were none in Wigtown. So, she went to Turnberry, some 42 miles away, where an opening was available. Turnberry is famous for its golf course, that sometimes hosts The Open. This property was recently acquired by the Trump Organization and the course is now the Trump Turnberry.

Tracy called to say that she’s been offered the job at Turnberry. She starts on Wednesday and tells me there are rumors that Donald Trump plans to visit some time soon. Hopefully, there’s more truth in those than the rumors that he’s going to run for the US presidency.