According to George Orwell, “there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets and they tend to gravitate towards bookshops”. Bythell’s diary suggests that not much has changed, in this respect at least, since Orwell worked in a bookshop in the 1930s.

Bythell has owned the Book Shop in Wigtown, Scotland, since 2001. When he bought it he was “amenable and friendly”, but the constant barrage of bizarre questions from customers, relentless haggling over prices and the impossibility of competing with Amazon have morphed him into the stereotype of “the impatient, intolerant, antisocial proprietor”.

In a wonderfully sardonic style, Bythell charts the second-hand bookseller’s daily struggle for existence: dealing with his assistant (“as capable as she is eccentric”); the astonishing rudeness of customers; the excitement he always feels when he goes through people’s unwanted books.

It’s a funny but also rather melancholy account of “the horror” and “exquisite joy” of running a bookshop.

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