Shaun Bythell has owned The Bookshop, the second-largest second-hand bookstore in Wigtown, Scotland, for nearly twenty-two years. In other words, it’s the stuff of dreams for anyone who loves books, frequently visits second-hard stores and beelines for the books, or travels hours to small seaside bookstores just to see if they have something rare. If you can’t live without the smell of books and your obsession borderlines addiction, Bythell’s book is for you.
Seven Kinds of People You Find In Bookshops follows Bythell’s previous two texts, The Diary of a Bookseller and Confessions of a Bookseller. Without reading his other work, I know I’ll enjoy them just as much as Seven Kinds of People You Find In Bookshops. Bythell fills his book with colourful literary and cultural references slotted between witty customer descriptions and anecdotes with ease. Not to mention the cover art is breathtaking. This is a winner for those who buy their books based on the cover!
Bythell separates each type of customer into a biological classification, focusing on the widespread genus and then the sub-species. This is hilarious and immediately establishes Bythell’s view of his subterranean customers, who often emerge with the intent of being observed; their every movement recorded. These genera consist of the ‘Expert’, ‘Young Family’, ‘Occultist’, ‘Loiterer’, ‘Bearded Pensioner’, ‘The Not-So-Silent Traveller’ and the ‘Family Historian’. Bythell includes bonus sections outlining type of staff, and the mysterious seen-once-in-a-lifetime perfect customer. I also have to share my favourite sub-species descriptions. The ‘Book-Loving Children’ is beautiful and simultaneously warmed and broke my heart. Essentially, he describes children who love to read but whose parents couldn’t care less and drag them away from the store. Let your children read all the books! On a completely different note, the ‘Dark Artist’ falling under the ‘Occultist’ genus was filled with a near-perfect description and brought specific visuals of clothing types to mind. Hint: They wear nothing but black. I would honestly list every sub-species as my favourite if I had the space because every description is written so poetically and with carefully thought observation.
I’ve worked in a bookstore for the last few months, and as I read through Bythell’s painfully accurate descriptions of the types of booksellers, I can’t believe that people behave in the same irritating manner even across the globe. Bythell’s descriptions are specifically targeted at second-hand bookstores, but some can be extended into the retail chain realm. Especially the customer discreetly searching for fiction with an erotic twist.
You’ll probably find yourself reading through the types of customers and scoffing at the thought that anyone could be that annoying. However, I feel we all have a bit of one of these customers in us, whether we’re the aimless wanderer or the toneless hummer, a tiny sliver of Bythell’s observations lives inside us. Each type is accompanied by Bythell’s anecdotes about what that customer has dared to do in his store. I imagine that if any mentioned customers read Bythell’s words, they’d either be entirely outraged or honoured that their annoyance was on a grand enough scale to be remembered and immortalised in the written word. As I turned the last page, I felt a tinge of sadness at leaving the store behind, and as an extension, the town with its unique and often annoying occupants.
Although Bythell playfully (and sometimes ruthlessly) mocks his customers, the book is ultimately a love letter to them, to the customers who have always supported him, his store, and the antiquarian business. With laugh-out-loud moments, it’s almost like you’re sitting down with an old friend to have a cup of tea near a warm fire. Bythell shares his stories with ease, never missing a beat and ever maintaining a balance between humour and heart-warming appreciation for his work.
Visit https://www.the-bookshop.com/ to discover more about Shaun Bythell’s work and store.