I’ve been told that this is the type of book I would read. Which is very accurate – I really was reading it back then so making this statement didn’t require to be a master of human psychic or logical deduction.
But it is true, it is my type of book. Mostly because I don’t have a type of books (or anything else, to be fair) that I like. I love books in general. So books about books are vent better. Writers come up with those all the time. But what about booksellers? They spend so much time around books. They must have something to say.
And Shaun Bythell really has a lot to say. About anybody and anything. He loves books and at times it might seem that he hates humans, but deep down he loves them. Otherwise he would just stop doing anything that isn’t just a way to get profit. He could just sell his books, like a normal boring bookseller and not bother doing anything to popularise reading. But he’s not doing that. He’s helping with the Wigtown Book Festival, founding the Random Book Club and writing a book in which he (indirectly) depicts the importance of books.
Isn’t that the best argument for his love for people? He knows that neither books or people are of any use by themselves. Books are just paper without readers. And people? People can exist without books, but that is such a sad and limited existence I’d rather ignore that possibility.
I hate comedy books or movies or anything that tries straightforwardly to be funny, without any deeper meaning (I’m very picky with my favourite stand-uppers too). Humour has to be unexpected, subtle or just purely sarcastic for me to actually enjoy it. And Bythell does a great job with that. He’s not particularly subtle, but he’s smart and able to see the most important aspects about his clients (by “important” I mean anything that can be made into a good joke or a witty remark).
Just a short excerpt of Bythell’s lovely misanthropy:
Three customers, when entering the shop, complained that they couldn’t see anything in the shop because it was so bright outside and their eyes had not adjusted. This is far from unusual and often explained in a tone suggesting that I am personally responsible for the involuntary reflex of the customer’s irises.
A customer came to the counter today and said, ‘I’ve looked under the W section of the fiction and I can’t find anything by Rider Haggard.’ I suggested that he had a look under the H section.
At 11 a.m. a customer came to the counter with a pile of railway books for her husband. As she was paying, she told me, ‘Never marry a railwayman’, as though this might be something I had seriously considered.
While I was repairing a broken shelf in the crime section, I overheard an elderly customer confusing E. L. James and M. R. James while discussing horror fiction with her friend. She is either going to be pleasantly surprised or deeply shocked when she gets home with the copy of Fifty Shades of Grey she bought.
But among all these observations, Blythell finds the chance to write about the relevant things for the publishing and bookselling industry:
The phenomenon of the best-seller in the publishing industry does not seem to translate into the same financial cash cow in the second-hand book industry. Perhaps people who buy into the best-seller concept will always buy their books new, to be on the crest of the wave as it breaks rather than the troughs behind it. Perhaps also because the Dan Browns and Tom Clancys of this world are published in such vast quantities that there is never any scarcity value in them for the dealer or the collector. What passes for a best-seller in the new book market is precisely the sort of book that will be a dog in the second-hand trade. Customers often fail to understand this and think that the first edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is worth a fortune, when in fact 12 millions of them were printed. As an author’s success and fame increase, so too will the size of the print runs of their successive books. Hence a first edition of Casino Royale (of which only 4728 first edition hardbacks were printed) will be worth considerably more than a copy of The Man with the Golden Gun, which had a first-edition, first-issue print run of 82000.
I won’t be able to go to the Wigtown Book Festival, but I’ll definitely take a weekend off to visit The Bookshop and I will keep an eye on the Facebook page to see if I caught Bythell’s attention. I’ll move books around, talk loudly and negotiate over the price of the books I want, only to leave without buying anything – that’s how much I want to be the subject of one of his posts.