2020 International Male Author Challenge · 2020 Reviews · memoir

POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020: Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

pop sugar 2020 29 july

Today I am marking off my twenty seventh #27th checkpoint category for the POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020 with:

a book that has a book on the cover

More from everyone’s favourite misanthropic antiquarian bookseller.confessions of a bookseller small

‘Do you have a list of your books, or do I just have to stare at them?’

Shaun Bythell is the owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland. With more than a mile of shelving, real log fires in the shop and the sea lapping nearby, the shop should be an idyll for bookworms.

Unfortunately, Shaun also has to contend with bizarre requests from people who don’t understand what a shop is, home invasions during the Wigtown Book Festival and Granny, his neurotic Italian assistant who likes digging for river mud to make poultices.

The Diary of a Bookseller (soon to be a major TV series) introduced us to the joys and frustrations of life lived in books. Sardonic and sympathetic in equal measure, Confessions of a Bookseller will reunite readers with the characters they’ve come to know and love.


Confessions of a Bookseller is a 2019 memoir from Scottish bookseller Shaun Bythell. Following on from his international bestseller The Diary of a Bookseller, Shaun Bythell is back for more musings and shenanigans from his Wigtown Bookshop. Bythell’s witty observations of his customers and the book trade in general makes this memoir an informed read for bibliophiles.

Shaun Bythell returns for a second volume in his book trade adventures in Confessions of a Bookseller, which was published in Australia by Allen and Unwin in late 2019.  Bythell’s frank and eye opening account of his life as a bookseller details the highs and lows of the book business. We learn of the odd requests that come from both customers in person and the bizarre online order system that Shaun must contend with. Along the way Shaun is supported by his eclectic crew, such as newcomer Granny and the long term boarder Captain the cat. Over the course of this second installment Shaun Bythell uncovers the all the ins and outs of bookselling in our current climate. Confessions of a Bookseller is at times revealing and surprising, especially for those who aspire to have their own bookshop one day!

Following on from the success of his first memoir, bookshop owner Shaun Bythell has released his second memoir detailing a year in the life of a secondhand bookseller in Scotland. Running month by month, with a daily breakdown of online orders, orders found, customer intakes and till totals, Confessions of a Bookseller offers a kind of blow by blow account of the often strange life of a bookshop owner.

As a self-confessed bibliophile and all round book nerd, I was quite interested in this literary themed memoir by Scottish bookseller Shaun Bythell. Although I haven’t read the first volume The Diary of a Bookseller, I was happy to give this one a chance. To be honest, I very nearly gave up on Confessions of a Bookseller. It seemed very dry and repetitive. I often felt like it was Groundhog day! However, I persisted in the hope that this one would offer me some joy as a bookworm and an aspiring bookshop owner. However, I don’t think this one ever managed to truly appeal to my booklover’s heart. It is shame as the content seemed like it would be right down my alley. Unfortunately the structure this one takes as a diary format was quite long winded and the execution was rather laborious. There were attempts at humour, but I don’t think I clicked to Bythell’s comedic approach.  What this memoir did reiterate was the truth behind the facade of bookselling. It is tough to make a living in an industry dominated by the power of online mega companies such as Amazon. Customers can be really difficult or just plain odd and Bythell seems to encounter all customer types, from time wasters to frugal shoppers. Then there are the physical demands of the job, such as lifting heavy boxes of books and disposing of old stock. Bythell’s thoughts and experiences are closely aligned to a close friend of mine who also works in the book business, which I valued.

I did find Confessions of a Bookseller rather hard going and overly long, but there were some redeeming features such the endearing staff and regular customers. I enjoyed the references to key literature and the name drops of various authors that have come Bythell’s way. The Wigtown festival was an interesting segment of the book and the treks Bythell makes to various house clearances and auctions to collect more stock was surprising. It was interesting to hear about the trends and customer requests that are made to Bythell’s bookstore, who knew local guides and railways books were so popular! Offsetting these bookish moments are some insights into Bythell’s life, including his relationship breakdown. Heading each new month turnover are excerpts from The Intimate Thoughts of John Baxter, Bookseller by Augustus Muir, which provides an extra point of view in regards to the business of bookselling.

My media release of Confessions of a Bookseller came with some information on the previous issue, Diary of a Bookseller, which is due to be made into a major series very soon. I was actually reminded of the television series Doc Martin while reading this memoir, it is a kind of book themed version of this quaint medical show! I think I would be willing to give the series a try if it makes it to Australian television screens, but on the whole Confessions of a Bookseller didn’t quite deliver the laugh out loud humour I expected from the front cover claims.

*** 3 stars

Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell was published on 1st October 2019 by Allen and Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Confessions of a Bookseller, Shaun Bythell, visit here.

*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.

*Book #7 of the 2020 International Male Author Challenge.




2 thoughts on “POPSUGAR READING CHALLENGE 2020: Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

  1. I thought you just might squeeze one more Popsugar book in before end of the month, and super happy to see you using one book for two reading challenges. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it but if I have completed the pop sugar challenge way before the end of the year I will read a different book for the categories I double dipped because my bookshelf on Goodreads at the moment shows me I’ve marked off 27 categories when really it is 29 and, I can’t have that LOL.

    The cover design is fun and quirky in a cool kind of way. I was hoping it was fiction, hmm, might give this a miss unless I come across it in an op shop because I do like the cover. It’s tough when a book doesn’t deliver always harder to write a review for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes just got in before the close of the month, this last stretch is proving harder than I thought! I had no choice but to use two different challenge categories for this one, thanks to my stupid bungle with the Alex title lol. It is funny now, but not at the time, I was fuming with myself for having almost wasted a book, but I will be adding it to the backlist challenge! I’m sure you will complete your challenge in plenty of good time and you can do as you say and read a different books for the categories you doubled up on. I say that;s dedication though!

      Thanks to cover is very quirky for sure, it caught me eye. Though the structure and format was very dry being a diary like non fiction piece. It was a slog at times, but if it helped me to knock two challenge checkpoints off I’m happy.


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