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. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020


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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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