Long-time followers will know I’m a big fan of Shaun Bythell’s tales of running a second-hand bookshop and gave Confessions of a Bookseller a rave review last November. Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops does more or less what it says on the tin: Bythell describes the typical customers you get in bookshops (although they’re not limited to bookshops - I definitely met some of these characters when I worked in a supermarket and a charity shop!) with his usual acerbic wit. It only took me about an hour to read, providing a restorative shot of humour and normality in these strange days.
I snorted out loud several times while reading this book. Bythell has such an eye for people and turn of phrase that you can’t help but laugh at and recognise his portraits of self-appointed experts, conspiracy theorists, the perpetually disdainful, loiterers, misers, bargain-hunting book dealers, and many more. I especially loved his descriptions and stories of three main types of people you get in the erotica section: furtive men, teenage boys guilelessly following in the footsteps of previous generations, and the occasional woman who browses ‘with a combination of curiosity and disappointment’.
You don’t feel mean enjoying the less flattering accounts of real people because they don’t spend much money in the shop, and can be a real pain for the staff to deal with. Besides, Bythell is very honest about his own shortcomings as a put-upon bookseller, you don’t get the impression he sees himself as superior to anyone else and, as the ‘bonus’ section shows, there are good and bad booksellers as well as customers!
Furthermore, he also includes positive descriptions of customers who love books and reading, and don’t complain about the prices or try to haggle. These include Haynes Manual and railway book enthusiasts, sci-fi and graphic novel fans, and book-loving patrons who always find something to buy each time they browse.
Bythell is very sympathetic towards children and parents; the former when they’re really into books without having to be pushed, and the latter when they just want a few minutes’ peace perusing the shelves, so long as they don’t take advantage and treat the bookshop as a childcare facility. Despite all his gripes about running a bookshop, you can just tell that these customers make it all worth it.
Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops is a short, funny treat.
Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops is published by Profile Books on 5 November 2020.