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Book Review - The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythel

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell is nonfiction, but what can fantasy authors learn from it?

A Kobo eReader with a greyscale cover of The Diary of a Bookseller sat on top of an assortment of paperback and hardback books.

This book might have the most literal book title I have ever come across. I read this book in an attempt to join a local book club.

Sadly, I didn’t make the deadline and didn’t want to turn up to the first meeting having not read the book! But I ploughed on through anyway. I said “ploughed” because, for me, this book was a bit of a slog.

Please be aware that this review will contain spoilers.

We’ll start with what I loved though. Characters seems like an odd word to describe the impressions of real people captured in Bythell’s book. But they are very much impressions of people, characters as they might be in fiction even if they have real world counterparts. Bythell, as narrator, has a challenging task of presenting himself as a total curmudgeon. The first sign that he is an unreliable narrator cropped up with the delightful interactions he has with his staff. Through his writing, there is a lot to learn about how characters might present themselves versus how other characters receive them.

Memoir, as the brilliant Ayshea Wild taught me in a fascinating talk, is a curated lived experience. This isn’t that. But it isn’t anything else I’ve come across either. My main criticism of A Diary of a Bookseller is that presenting a year in one’s life through daily diary entries leaves little room for a narrative arc and plenty of room for repetition. The book, for the most part, is just stuff that happened each day. At times, I found the author seemed to have forgotten he’d already told us certain details leading to themes, tasks and people being reintroduced. One of Bythell’s intentions was definitely to highlight the tedium of the same issues and events cropping up daily, weekly, quarterly. So in a sense, the repetition had purpose. But to me, it didn’t feel purposeful. Just like in fiction, repetition leads to your readers eyes sliding off the page.

My other criticism from this book isn’t as much coming from the developmental perspective. A running theme throughout this book is the pessimistic attitudes that our industry holds towards young, bright-eyed hopefuls. I hope someday we can strike a balance between managing expectations and crushing passion. But he seems to miss that it is his own passion that allows him to weather storms. Book people do what they do purely for love. Counter to one of the books major themes, while loving books may not be enough, it certainly is important. So perhaps there is a developmental nugget in there! If you want to convey a theme or a message, try not to have your protagonist unwittingly contradicting it – unless you’re being intentionally subversive, of course!

P.S. And, yes! I read it on my Kobo. I’m the worst person imaginable!


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