When I first conceived of the Summer School the Book Group to which many of those who attend also belong didn’t have an August meeting. In fact, this was one of the reasons that the Summer School was established. However, for the past two or three years this hasn’t been the case and so when the week chosen is early in the month, as it is this year, it can cause quite a build up of what I think of as ‘necessary’ reading. As a result these past few days I have been alternating between Hermione Lee’s biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, (prep for leading the discussion on The Bookshop), Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (for the Book Group), Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookshop and, as an easy to pick up and put down read for the evenings, The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell.
Bythell’s book proved to be one of a small number of works that I have encountered over my reading life where the narrative voice is so emphatic I find myself embracing its characteristics in my own speaking and writing. The first time that this happened (and perhaps the strongest) was with Jane Eyre. For days I didn’t dare set pen to paper for fear it would appear as if I was attempting a pastiche or, even worse, that I was setting myself up as the next Charlotte Brontë. Of course, where Bythell is concerned this just meant that I became grumpier and grumpier as the week went on. I suppose if the majority of your custom comes from passing trade you can afford occasionally to be rude to those who are particularly annoying. If they are unlikely ever again to cross your threshold perhaps it doesn’t matter. However, as someone who was brought up in a small corner shop where every customer was a cherished regular, I cringed at some of his comments. He complains about how little money he takes, but at times I wasn’t surprised. Not that this stopped me enjoying the book. Like most avid readers, I am a sucker for books about books. Inevitably there is the comfortable feeling that you are in the company of someone of like mind and there is always the possibility that you will come away with a list of titles to add to the one that you already tout around with you wherever you go in the hope that you will stumble across a precious new volume.
In respect of looking for new books, while I may not have a nearby independent bookshop, I have discovered that there is a large used bookstore, Sedgeberrow Books, about twenty miles away in Pershore. Does anyone know it? And if so, can you recommend a decent nearby tearoom? As far as I’m concerned I can’t do one without the other but the reviews of local establishments are not encouraging, reasonable food but very poor customer service. Perhaps they have all been reading Bythell?