People are horrible, but there’s still hope.

Finding relatable behaviours and characters and situations always strike me with an oxymoronic mix of relief, sadness, and humour. A phew, I’m not the only one. An oh, boy, this world is screwed. And, eventually, the bwahaha, this is ridiculous.

Cover illustration: Bill Brag; Design: Peter Dyer. Paperback edition published in 2018 by Profile Books.

Shaun Bythell’s diary is the only book (in a couple of months) that has managed to temporarily heal my scrolling necessities. This may sound shallow, of course, but as I’ve been focusing my book hoarding criteria on titles that must bring me some sort of education (resulting in a collection of valuable reads I rarely have the mental strength to pay attention to for more than 20 pages in a row), I forgot what reading just for fun felt like. So when Vlad showed me this happy-go-lucky 300-page memoir of a bookseller who sprinkles his pages with quotes from another famous antisocial bookmonger I like (yes, Orwell), I said I “accept”.

This little worried lady-faced log is a gift from my father. Grabbed from some flea market, he thought I would definitely like it and find it weirdly funny. I do.

Bythell’s bookshop manages to survive in Wigtown, a small town on the remote coast of Galloway, a place with that specific charm of a realm where life happens at a slower pace than usual. There, the conventional tame atmosphere is interrupted every so often by its surrounding or inhabiting life: a fatty cat called Captain (sorry for the body shaming, fluff master), an inexhaustibly waggish bookshop assistant, some recurring colorful individuals and lots of mostly maddening customers. Shaun’s daily notes draw an accurate portrait of the bookshop’s regulars, but this portrait can be easily expanded to fit the features of the universal customer. So everyone who’s ever worked directly with a shop audience (online or offline) will find stuff to chuckle at between these pages. And those who have never been behind a shop counter may get some insights on how they should not act like anymore (wishful thinking).

This book landed into my arms just when I was reminding myself that the more people I encounter, the more I want to stay away from people. I’m also currently pondering whether I’m willing to renounce the big city life and embrace a less tiring, more quiet small city experience. The perspective of a relocation to a clean, beautiful setting where almost nothing happens is really appealing at the moment, but we’ll see about that.

While reading it, I couldn’t not rewind some memories from my past life, those completely barren first 18 years spent within the perimeter of a small industrial town in Northern Romania. A town where people used to know too little about the world, and too much about one another. Just before computers and mobile phones became affordable, before the internet managed to breach the massive general boredom, I was stuck in a place with no sea or mountains or cultural endeavors around, a place with a decrepit rat-invaded cinema, no theater, an inhospitable library, no bookshops, and a forgotten park – wow, this inventory makes it look even darker now: how did we survive like that? It’s changed now, 13 years later, and a bit more livable (maybe thanks to the internet connection and a functional delivery network), but let’s not exaggerate.

Back to the book, the previous thought came up when I plunged into the winter season and Shaun mentioned the couples in desperate need to get away from the family they were visiting for the holidays in Wigtown. Luckily, they had an escape room: The Book Shop. We didn’t/don’t.

Unfortunately, Amazon, the often brought up arch-enemy, has been rapidly changing the landscape of independent (book)shops around the world, so we’d better enjoy these precious premises while we still can. And behave!

PS: Hang in there, Shaun!


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