This is not Nineteen Eighty-Four

Photo: Eli Francis on Pixabay

Wigtown is a coastal town in south-west Scotland so in love with books that its approximately 900 (presumably) well-read inhabitants have an incredible sixteen bookshops on their doorstep(s), an annual book festival that runs for ten days, and the official title of Scotland’s National Book Town. One of those bookshops, cryptically named The Book Shop and boasting more than a mile of shelving beneath its 100,000 books, also happens to be the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland, and in 2014 its owner, Shaun Bythell, began to keep a fascinating and often hilarious diary in which to vent write about the realities of such a career in an increasingly digital age. Thankfully, in 2017, The Diary of a Bookseller was published for all to enjoy.

The Diary Entry


Online orders: 5
Books found: 5 

Beautiful sunny day.

Our Amazon Seller Rating has dropped to Poor.

Kate, the postie, delivered the mail this morning at 10 a.m. as always.

Among the usual bills and pleas from charities was a letter from Royal Mail informing me that – as part of an efficiency drive – they are increasing their rates. Apparently we’re all going to be saving money because their price increase is less than inflation. I did a few calculations and worked out that my average parcel will go from £1.69 to £1.87. This is a rise of 10 per cent. Last time I checked, inflation was about 2 per cent. Will Amazon increase the amount of postage they charge customers in line with the Royal Mail increase? Almost certainly not. At the moment, the £2.80 postal charge for a book bears no resemblance to the actual cost of posting individual books, so on some heavier books we lose money on postage, which is irritating, and on smaller books we make money on the postage, which irritates the customer. The only winner is Amazon, which takes 49p of the postage charged to the customer, leaving us with £2.31 postage per book.

At lunchtime a customer asked if we ever lose books to thieves. It’s not something I’ve ever really considered much, despite the labyrinthine layout of the shop affording potential thieves with a wealth of opportunity. Occasionally in the past I have been unable to find books and assumed that perhaps theft had been their fate, but they’ve nearly all turned up eventually in different places. There seems to be something somehow less morally culpable about stealing a book than stealing, say, a watch. Perhaps it is that books are generally perceived as being edifying, and so acquiring the knowledge contained within them is of a greater social and personal value than the impact of the crime. Or, at least if it doesn’t outweigh the crime, then it certainly mitigates it. Irvine Welsh explored this idea in Trainspotting, when Renton and Spud are caught shoplifting from Waterstones. In court Spud admits that he stole the books to sell on, while Renton claims that he stole the copy of Kierkegaard with which he was found because he wanted to read it. When the sceptical magistrate challenges him on his knowledge of the existentialist philosopher, Renton replies:

I am interested in his concepts of subjectivity and truth, and particularly his ideas concerning choice; the notion that the genuine choice is made out of doubt and uncertainty, and without recourse to the experience of others. It could be argued, with some justification, that it’s primarily a bourgeois, existential philosophy and would therefore seek to undermine collective social wisdom. However, it’s also a liberating philosophy, because when such societal wisdom is negated, the basis for social control over the individual becomes weakened and … but I am rabbiting a bit here. Ah cut myself short. They hate a smart cunt. It’s easy to talk yourself into a bigger fine, or fuck sake, a higher sentence. Think deference, Renton, think deference.

The magistrate acquits Renton, but convicts Spud.

In any case, I deeply dislike security cameras and would rather lose the occasional book than have that sort of intrusive monitoring in the shop. This is not Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The smell of cat piss is back.

Till total £236 
14 customers 

Further Reading

Three volumes of Shaun’s diaries have now been published, and I would happily read another dozen. If you’re looking to buy a copy (and really, you should), it would make perfect sense to buy them directly from his bookshop at 17 North Main Street, Wigtown. However, if you’re unable to make the trek, here are those titles on his shop’s website.

Diary entry excerpted from The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, published by Profile Books in 2017. Reprinted by kind permission of Shaun Bythell.

5 responses to “This is not Nineteen Eighty-Four”

  1. Found you from the 1440 Newsletter. Looking forward to this. Thank you from Alaska!

  2. Great idea you have to show off your diary entries.

  3. Isn’t this what subscribing does?

  4. Marlene Hoover Avatar
    Marlene Hoover

    These are so funny and make for interesting reading. People did have a sense of humor way back when

  5. Nguyen Cong Kien Avatar
    Nguyen Cong Kien

    It is nice to see there still some keeping diary of their day.
    Also, I pretty intersting on the philosophy of book theft from him. Never really think about it that way.

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