Remainders of the Day by Shaun Bythell
It’s a running joke for me that my all-time most viewed post on this blog is ‘Return to Wigtown‘ that I wrote about the second volume of diaries by Shaun Bythell, owner of the Wigtown Bookshop. That book was published in 2019, and my write-up has amassed over 7000 views, with 1250 of those being this year! Every day it still gets a handful of page views. As I’ve previously said, I think the conversation I had with Rebecca in the comments on my review and hers featured certain key words which get picked up on the search engines! By contrast, my review of the first volume, Diary of a Bookseller, published in 2018, has had a mere 150 or so views total over the years since its publication.
And now his third volume of diaries has been published, with it’s wonderful punning title, and as soon as my ordered copy arrived I dropped the book I was reading to be transported back to the wilds of Dumfries and Galloway, and the trials of running a big secondhand bookshop in Scotland’s book town.
Carrying on from the end of the last volume which took us up to the beginning of 2016, Bythell’s diaries follow exactly the same format – each entry is bookended by the number of online orders and books located at the top and sales through the till and number of customers at the bottom. There are his extensive battles with Amazon too over getting his online listings reinstated, a losing battle it seems, and he sanguinely wonders if he is better off without them – his FBA (fulfilled by Amazon) and ABE listings remaining unaffected.
In between, all his regulars make appearances including Sandy the Tattooed Pagan who makes walking sticks to sell in the shop, and the reclusive ‘Mole Man’. There is plenty of late-night drinking, visitors to put up including the untidy festival organiser Eliot, as well as customers who can’t see the bleeding obvious, and occasional appearances of the cat, Captain. There’s the timing of taking parcels to the post office, to avoid the jobsworth slow processing by postmaster William, which becomes a running gag in this volume. As always the landscape plays a great supporting role too.
Bythell still travels up and down the country buying (yes to railways and birds), or not buying books (a surprising number of readers digest volumes!), which means that someone else needs to mind the shop. This volume is missing Nicky, his singularly unique former assistant who had moved onto pastures new at the end of volume two. But, hurrah! Granny is back! In volume two, he’d offered work experience for several months to an Italian woman, Emanuela, who gained the nickname Granny for all her ailments. Granny loved living there so much, she’s decided to move to Wigtown permanently, and when she’s not working at a local restaurant covers the shop when needed. She and Bythell have a super friendship, she gives him the finger each day while waiting at the bus-stop to go to work at the restaurant in the next village! The rest of his shop assistants have less ebullient characters, student Lucy is as quiet as a mouse, and is also rather efficient – unlike some of his previous students.
Again, Bythell prefixes each month with a quote from a book about bookselling – this time they all come from a 1904 volume called Bits from an Old Bookshop by one RM WIlliamson, which allow him to wax lyrical about the trade. Returning to these diaries which take us through 2016 into early 2017, is an unalloyed pleasure; a comfort read for sure for anyone who loves books about books. A short epilogue updates us on how much he loved lockdown, confirming his friends and his own marital status and fatherhood too. This epilogue would seem to hint that there won’t be a fourth volume, and perhaps, if the same format were to be followed, that could be too much of a good thing, although it’s interesting to see changing tastes and interests in the secondhand books market over time. There’s so much still to enjoy in Remainders of the Day – there’s no need to necessarily read the volumes in order, but enjoy one and you’ll be hooked like me.
Source: Own copy. Profile Books hardback, 377 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.