Bighearted, sobering, and humane.


A bookseller in Wigtown, Scotland, recounts a year in his life as a small-town dealer of secondhand books.

“The pleasure derived from handling books that have introduced something of cultural or scientific significance to the world is undeniably the greatest luxury that this business affords,” writes Bythell. In a diary that records his wry observations from behind the counter of his store, the author entertains readers with eccentric character portraits and stories of his life in the book trade. The colorful cast of characters includes bookshop regulars like Eric, the local orange-robed Buddhist; Captain, Bythell’s “accursed cat”; “Sandy the tattooed pagan”; and “Mole-Man,” a patron with a penchant for in-store “literary excavations.” Bythell’s employees are equally quirky. Nicky, the author’s one paid worker, is an opinionated Jehovah’s Witness who “consistently ignores my instructions” and criticizes her boss as “an impediment to the success of the business.” His volunteer employee, an Italian college student named Emanuela (whom the author nicknamed Granny due to her endless complaints about bodily aches), came to Wigtown to move beyond the world of study and “expand [her] knowledge.” Woven into stories about haggling with clients over prices or dealing with daily rounds of vague online customer requests—e.g., a query about a book from “around about 1951. Part of the story line is about a cart of apples being upset, that’s all I know”)—are more personal dramas, like the end of his marriage and the difficult realities of owning a store when “50 per cent [sic] of retail purchases are made online.” For Bythell, managing technical glitches, contending with low profit margins on Amazon, and worrying about the future of his business are all part of a day’s work. Irascibly droll and sometimes elegiac, this is an engaging account of bookstore life from the vanishing front lines of the brick-and-mortar retail industry.

Bighearted, sobering, and humane.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-56792-664-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Godine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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