Shaun Bythell’s dispatches from the Wigtown Bookshop, which he has run for nearly 20 years, read like a knowing riff on the persona of Bernard Black. He started out grousing about his life, pillorying his eccentric staff and venting about his noisome customers on a Facebook page. Then he did the same in his hit Diary of a Bookseller, continued with Confessions of a Bookseller, and here he is – an actual franchise – with a slim little listicle-titled till-point follow-up for the Christmas market. His inner Bernard Black will be heaving a world-weary sigh. The more he parades his contemptus mundi, the more the world loves him.
This new book (what’s known in the trade as a ‘slim volume’) gives far from flattering — though often funny — descriptions of the seven ways in which Bythell’s customers drive him mad. There is the Expert, the person who comes into the shop to impart rather than obtain information. ‘They like to sneer at you for not having heard of an obscure book about the Siberian tree snail.’ The Expert likes long words: ‘It’s as though they’ve dined out and eaten Will Self for a main course.’ Then there is the Aspirational Parent. Bythell’s response to them is simple: ‘I can tell you without the slightest shadow of doubt that four- year-old Tarquin does NOT want to read War And Peace.’
His postscript on staff features the most vividly drawn characters in this literary sitcom. But the exploration of the genus Bearded Pensioners is the most entertaining chapter of the book, allowing a grumpy middle-aged man to moan about grumpy, moaning old men. Here Bythell breaks out of the confines of the shop to remark on their vehicular proclivities too. He is having fun and it’s infectious – not because it’s fun to mock old people but because his observations, while broad, are actually amusing.