Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

“This is why, every morning, getting out of bed is not in anticipation of a repetitive drudge but in expectation that I may have the chance to hold in my hands a copy of something that first brought to humanity an idea that changed the course of history…”


Shaun Bythell owns the largest bookshop in Scotland. Their stock is extensive and varied, and covers nearly a mile of shelving. His website warns to watch out for the cat. As a lover of cats, owning one myself, I was thrilled to think of a cat wandering around Shaun’s bookshop. The store is dog friendly, but as Shaun says, “the shop’s resident cat has been with us for about ten years. He is, without question, the biggest cat in Wigtown, and possibly Scotland. He hates dogs, so if you have one, be warned.”

I was drawn to this book for a number of reasons, and I’m grateful to Godine Publishers for the gifted copy. The book (which is soon to be a major TV series), gives us an inside look into the joys and frustrations of a life lived in books. The reader has the chance to dive into Shaun’s personal diary entries over the course of one year. 

Each month opens with a summary and information on books and booksellers, giving the reader an even more in depth look and an idea of the book selling climate at that particular time. 

Shaun’s store, The Book Shop, looks absolutely enchanting, and looking through the pictures on his website gave me a good idea of his surroundings. I’ve added it to my bucket list to visit on a future trip to Scotland.

The diary entries are vividly descriptive and down to earth. I feel with each one I get to know Shaun, and his store, The Bookshop, even more. The dated entries took me on an adventurous journey of life as a used bookstore owner. There’s talk about the same customers over the course of the book, so we get to know a little about those who visit the store as well, mostly by what they’re buying or selling.

Each entry is short, concise, but also layered, in that each one left me with some thoughts after reading. My imagination was perked as I thought of the various customers coming and going. It was also pretty fun thinking of what they would be like in person.

I found it incredibly interesting learning about the used bookstore business, hearing about what books Shaun had in the store, what he was expecting, and the kinds of books people were interested in purchasing, whether he had them in stock or not. The book left me with a craving to visit my local bookstores. One in particular, MacLeod’s, which reminds me of how I imagine Shaun’s store to be. There’s a certain kind of magic in any bookstore, but even more so in a used bookstore. It’s magical to think about the hands that have held each book, and how someone has felt while reading it. 

I often donate my used books to The Little Free Library outdoor bookshelves in Vancouver. I like to think of others opening them up and seeing what I’ve highlighted throughout, the marks I’ve left for others to see, wondering if they feel what I felt. 

I’ve had my sights set on a specific edition of Penguin’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for a while, waiting to find the perfect edition. It’s a favourite of mine. I checked Shaun’s website right away but unfortunately couldn’t find one. I’ll keep checking, though! I’d love to order a book from his store. They offer worldwide shipping. 

The prose of Confessions of a Bookseller is conversational and casual, and it felt like an easy and lighthearted read. I also found it quite hilarious at times, Shaun’s dry sense of humour shining through each entry. I felt like I got to know him more through each entry. 

“After lunch a woman with the bearing of a retired headmistress brought in a box of books,” he continues, “I offered her £10 for them, at which point she snatched them back and stormed off saying, ‘I’ll just give them to the charity shop, in that case.’ Tomorrow I’ll go to the charity shop and buy them there for £5.” 

At the beginning of each day, Shaun states what orders he’s had and if he’s actually found the books he’s sold. I like to imagine him wandering around the store trying to find the books. Will he find the books or not? I wonder. He has more than 100,000 titles in the store, so it’s no surprise that he might not always find the books.

I headed to MacLeod’s right after reading this book to satiate my desire for a used book. I never quite know what I’m looking for when I go, but usually leave with something completely unexpected. 

Overall, this book was absolutely lovely and allows the reader the opportunity to follow a rare bookseller over the course of one year. Shaun sets the scene in each diary entry, talking about the sales, the customers, and little things such as the weather and what he gets up to when the bookstore is closed. I really like that he included information about his personal life, which enhances the book and takes us out of The Bookshop at times. It also lets us know that he does, in fact, have a life outside the store. It makes it even more relatable, and gave me an opportunity to know more about Shaun.

As someone who loves books, and bookstores, I found the book a pleasure to read, and recommend to those like myself, who also adore books. This was charming!

Courtesy of Shaun's GoodReads

Shaun Bythell
is the owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland's National Book Town, and also one of the organisers of the Wigtown Festival. When not working amongst The Bookshop’s mile of shelving, Shaun’s hobbies include eavesdropping on customers, uploading book-themed re-workings of Sugarhill Gang songs to YouTube and shooting Amazon Kindles in the wild.

Confessions of a Bookseller is available for order at my local bookstore, Blackbond Books. Check GoodReads for additional stores near you.  

Shaun’s store, The Book Shop, also delivers worldwide, if you’re interested in checking out some second hand books.