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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, March 3, 2024

Bhallin' with Books: Peeking into a bookshop life



​I have spent an insanely large proportion of my life hidden between stacks of books. A few years ago, I caught the used and rare bookstore bug and have never gone back. I love to hold a book that has had its own life while thinking of each hand that has turned this page before me. Books travel through various minds, connecting each reader together in the shared experience between its pages.

​This devotion has somehow led me to not just visit second-hand bookstores, but to visit one and buy a book about a used bookstore owner’s experience owning a used bookstore.

"The Diary of a Bookseller" (2017) is a witty and sarcastic daily account of life owning a used bookstore in a small Scottish village by Shaun Bythell. Customers come in and out as Bythell entertainingly describes insane and confusing encounters with them. Life as a bookstore owner is not easy. Life as a used bookstore owner is even harder. Bythell shows his struggle in a changing industry and the dying love his store depends on.

To my roommate’s dismay, I was audibly laughing at Bythell’s quippy nature and blunt dissatisfaction. His humor is dry in a delightfully quirky way. Obviously not holding back, Bythell is unafraid to critique and condemn his customers’ behavior. Though he remarks that some people do take offense, this actually further encourages him to share his irritation and disgruntled commentary.

Last week's "The Subterraneans" (1958) was not an easy read, as you can get lost within Kerouac’s prose. "The Diary of a Bookseller" was a welcomed contrast. The pages ran through my fingers, and my enjoyment increased as I got to know his eccentric employee Nicky and the quiet, peculiar daily life of this small Scottish town. I even found myself itching to browse his confusingly large and popular section about railways.

Written in a true diary style, each day is punctuated with the number of the amount of money made. Though this is a constant reminder of the business side of a bookstore, the stories captured from the day allow you to imagine where each book went and where each dollar came from. You no longer see just a number. You see the hands the books were transferred to and the passion that seeps from both the seller and the buyer. This gives a book lover like me hope that there are still others out there who feel connected to texts and will keep these stores alive.

Reflecting on "The Diary of a Bookseller" forced me to realize how much enjoyment I gain from reading for pleasure. It alleviates my mind and heart from daily stress in a way that binging a TV show will never be able to do. Books are pieces of art that are gifts to us all. They allow us to come alive in places we’ve never been and work through struggles we did not realize we had.

Bythell was able to do all this important work while making me laugh. Giggling along with his wryness, I lost the purpose of reading and read simply for myself. In that way, this column has already been a gift, and I look forward to the places it takes me next.