1 March 2018 Susannah

A Shelf-Catering Holiday

The Open Book - a bookshop holiday
The Diary of a Bookseller

The Diary of a Bookseller

I do love reading books set in bookshops. Recently I very much enjoyed The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell. It recounts the joys and pains of running a second-hand bookstore and is full of amusing anecdotes. I do not much share Shaun’s reading tastes, and almost every book he himself read or recommended, or even sold, seemed to have been written by a man and I was tempted to send him a good list of books by women. But his book was funny and sad at the same time, and it did make you ponder the troubled future of bookshops. He describes how one day he shoots a kindle, then sticks the damaged kindle on the bookshop wall, as a warning to his customers of what e-books are doing to shops like his.

Shaun’s shop is in Wigtown, the Scottish official ‘book shop’ town. Did you know that you can go and stay in some rooms above a bookstore there and work behind the counter during the day? The concept of this ‘shelf-catering’ holiday has proved so popular that the place is fully booked for the next two years. You can find details on https://www.airbnb.com.au/rooms/7908227

What other books can you think of that are set in book shops? There’s The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald (recently made into a film), 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (light, but pleasant), Riceyman Steps by Arnold Bennett, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad (I don’t think I’ve ever pitied anyone as I pitied the poor women in that Kabul family!), and The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee.

Would you like to run a bookshop? I know I would! Please leave a comment to tell me.

   The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
   The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
   84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
   The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
   Riceyman Steps by Arnold Bennett
   The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
   The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
   The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee

I only recommend books I have read and know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.


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Featured image credit- The Open Book – a bookshop holiday. https://www.facebook.com/TheOpenBookWigtown/
Body image credit- The Diary of a Bookseller cover image https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35512560-the-diary-of-a-bookseller

Comments (13)

  1. Penny Morris

    My local bookshop ( Blues Point Bookshop) is not a secondhand bookshop but what makes it so good is that the owner does know every book and author and can therefore recommend ones for birthday presents etc. I find some secondhand bookshops overwhelming in terms of browsing as often they have so many books in piles on the floor etc and it can be difficult to skim titles to see if anything sounds interesting. The occasional one where the owner has been very selective in what they stock can be a true treasure trove. I keep a list of old books in my handbag which has come in handy.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Doesn’t it make a difference when the book shop owner knows what is in stock and is helpful. I do so love second hand bookshops – you just never know what treasures you might find. I have not been to the Blue Pt one for ages – must check it out again soon.

  2. Miland

    The internet (and no doubt Kindles) have undermined bookshops everywhere. There used to be a few good secondhand booksellers in Birmingham, but three that I knew about have disappeared over the years. The owners of two passed on, but the third moved into mail orders. But there’s one nice one left: Oxfam! If anyone visits Birmingham, have a look at it in High Street, Harborne (a suburb a few miles South-West of the city centre).

    In New York which I’ve visited a few times over the years, the flagship branch of Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue is no more, but there’s a decent branch in Union Square with a good cafe. Borders hasn’t survived on either side of the Atlantic.

    Recently on holiday in Pune, India I found that the biggest and best for decades, Manneys, is no more gone, the owner having retired. The flagship branch of a chain called Crossword couldn’t survive . There are however two branches of Crossword left that I found, respectively in the North-East and North-West of the city – in the upmarket Phoenix Mall in Vimanagar, and in Aundh near Pune University.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It is very sad that so many fabulous book shops have now disappeared. The internet, so many books being made freely available on line, kindles, and cheap books at huge chain stores, all have made a difference. I agree that we have lost many real treasures of book shops.

  3. Thanks for this great article, Susannah. I adored reading ‘The Diary of a Bookseller’ and ’84, Charing Cross Road’. They have become two of my favourite books!

  4. Toni Pollard

    There are all those books about famous Shakepeare and Company bookshop in Paris. I read and loved Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Sounds great, thanks Toni. It is such a fabulous book shop.

  5. Paul Robinson

    If you liked Shaun Bythell’s ‘Diary of a Bookseller’ you will love ‘Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs’ The Left Bank World of Shakespeare and Co.(Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2006 ISBN 9780753820582) An altercation with a source sees author Jeremy Mercer quit his job as a crime reporter and fly to Paris. He doesn’t have a job, a visa or a plan. He stumbles into Shakespeare and Co., the legendary English language bookshop and soon joins other budding writers who ‘pay’ to stay by working at the store and promising to read a book a day. They hope to emulate previous residents Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Allen Ginsberg and Anais Nin.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      That sounds like a must-read. Thanks Paul. I have of course been to Shakespeare & Co so will be able to picture where it all takes place.

  6. Anna Maria

    Managing a small bookshop (preferably with a sideline coffee/winebar as I’ve experienced in Paris) was once a dream of mine but everyday life got in the way. Not because it’s an easy way of life, on the contrary I think it would be challenging in the current environment. Not only does one need to be an avid reader of books and follower of authors but also a marketing guru, competent sales and finance manager, service professional and, finally a great listener. I can always tell whether a bookshop is going to be successful if (1) when I look at its shelves I get a sense of its identity and whether it reflects the local area and its customer base and (2) when asked a question the staff attend to what I am saying and do not fly off on a tangent selling their favourite product of the day. Time and again I find myself being talked at by bookshop staff who seem to want to parade their literary interests and snobbery rather than listen to my enquiry and guide me towards a satisfactory outcome. I bought a book a few days ago related to developmental psychology and found myself on the receiving end of a rant about the number of self-development/psychology books currently on the market titled with swear words and that originated from personal blogs. Well, I empathised with the young sales assistant but could not get a word in edgewise to express my agreement. She was too busy talking at me. I thought I was in an episode of one of my old favourite TV series with a bookshop backdrop “Black Books”! Now “Black Books”, what better training material on how not to run a bookshop?

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I totally agree. A person runnning a bookshop must know how to listen, and must also be a reader. I once asked a girl in a book shop if they had a copy of Peter Pan as my sons were going through a pirate phase. The girl said No, she did not think they had that book, but she could supply me with Peter Rabbit. Hardly what I was after! I found your comments very interesting – thanks.

  7. Margaret Debenham

    Another pleasant read in the Bookshop Book genre is “The Bookshop That Floated Away” by Sarah Henshaw.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Sounds an intriguing title. I will add it to my list. Thanks.

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