Review: The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

large_9781781258620It’s a weekly struggle explaining to non-book-industry folk exactly what I do for a living. In publishing circles, bookselling is a fine, respected career. It’s a fundamental part of the cycle, after all: we put books in the hands of readers. But there’s more to it than that; a workload people not “in the know” don’t understand.

When I explain I spent the day shelving books, these outsiders picture me lackadaisically wandering the shop, humming a tune, easing books into their rightful slots, not cringing at how tightly packed everything is. When I say the shop was busy, they imagine my reading behind the counter being interrupted by an enquiring customer, when in fact, I don’t know a bookseller who has time to read a single sentence during trading hours. Never mind the need to chase customer orders, dealing with short-supplied deliveries, arranging displays, meeting reps and authors, finding books for the eleven members of a customer’s family, each with a specific interest, all of which need to be gift-wrapped in a specific kind of wrapping paper, with a specific colour of ribbon, with knots that’re bulky, but not obtrusive, and oh, they needed to be wrapped ten minutes ago, because they’re parked illegally, and oh shit, is that the parking inspector?!

Suffice to say, I love my job. But explaining its intricacies and exasperations isn’t easy. Which is why Shaun Bythell’s book is so delightful. It encapsulates many of the daily episodes that make up the sum total of my life, and the challenges faced by booksellers across the world by multinational corporations. But more than that, it’s a portrait of the author’s small town of Wigtown, and its quirky community. The way he describes it, it’s a place I very much want to visit.

The Diary of a Bookseller details a year in the life of Bythell, who is the owner of Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop. His sharp-tongued, frequently hilarious analysis of his customers had me guffawing on the train, stifling the laugh of a madman. He explains the delights and hardships faced by booksellers, and reminded me why I can’t imagine myself doing anything else, and steeled me for the fight ahead, as the big boys move in and try and take over. Funny, endearing, inspiring; for any book lovers out there, this is is a must.

ISBN: 9781781258620
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
Imprint: Profile Books Ltd
Publication date: June 2017
Dimensions: 216mm X 135mm
Produced in: United Kingdom
Availability date: October 2017
Bind: Hardback
Pages: 320

Review: Reveal by Robbie Williams & Chris Heath

ROBBIE WILLIAMS HB JACKET AUG 09 MATT LAM SIM.inddEverybody has that song that defined their adolescence, and Robbie Williams’ Feel, the lead single from his fifth studio album, Escapology, was mine. It encapsulates his struggles to find true love, which was a theme that struck a chord with me, despite being only a teenager, and realistically, in no real hurry to find the love of my life. (The search continues!) Particularly resonant was the line, “There’s a hole in my soul, you can see it in my face, it’s a real big place,” which at the time, I thought, summed up my melancholy perspective of myself in the world. From Feel, I latched onto the second single from Escapology, a song called Come Undone, and the line “So self aware, so full of shit” really struck home, too; you couldn’t find a better way to describe my opinion of myself. And to this day, if both songs are offered as karaoke options, you can guarantee I’ll belt them out proudly. Liking Robbie Williams was never especially cool (for reasons I couldn’t fathom), but then, being cool was never really on the table for me in my youth, so we fit like a glove, and Robbie’s oscillation between brutal self-deprecation and fake bravado made him a figure I could relate to. Whatever music he releases, I will buy. There’s that connection there, forged in my formative years.

Just as important to me as his music was Robbie’s first biography, Feel, also written with Chris Heath. You know how some people say Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was fundamental to their adolescence? That was Robbie’s Feel for me. I savoured the unparalleled access into the thoughts of this grand entertainer. It wasn’t his struggles with alcohol and drugs that impacted me most; it was the demons that constantly resurfaced, telling him he was shit, that his success was undeserved; his insights into how be combatted immense stage fright, and both lusted after his fandom, and despited it, often simultaneously. The book affected me, pure and simple, and I still have my battered copy on my shelf. I haven’t re-read it in a while, but I’ll often skim its pages, which always reminds me of where I was at that particular juncture in my life.

Skip forward more than a decade later, and my almost-thirty-year-old-self was thrilled when Reveal, the sequel to Feel, was announced. And I’m so happy it’s just as raw and honest as its predecessor. The book goes into Robbie’s brief retirement, when his struggles with substance abuse resurfaced, and then his resurgence, with the release of his latest album The Heavy Entertainment Show. We learn about how he has dealt with fatherhood, the precarious beginnings of his relationship with his now-wife Ayda, and how he continues to fight the never-ending battle against the self-doubt that plagues him. Robbie is very self aware, and is entirely cognisant of the new landscape of pop stars, who are moulded on television shows like X-Factor, and how his place has changed, now that he’s a 42-year-old, and a veteran of the industry. His neuroses, however much they have haunted him, have moulded Robbie Williams into the grand entertainer he is, which he both despairs about, and appreciates. Reading Reveal, just like Feel, you understand Robbie is constantly battling himself, and while it would be great, perhaps, if the bad thoughts faded, he wouldn’t have achieved the success he has without those spilt personalities fighting for headspace.

This is a book that Robbie Williams fans will lap up and love. It’s incredibly entertaining, and his dedication to rebuilding his career is utterly enthralling. Oh, sure, it’s not going to win over the haters, but they won’t have plonked down the cash for Reveal in the first place. For the rest of us, the fans, the ones that matter, we’re just delighted to have Robbie back making music, and allowing us further insight into his life. Chris Heath’s book delivers a sympathetic and honest portrait that fully captures the private and public life of this singular entertainer.

Publisher: Bonnier Publishing Australia
Imprint: Echo Publishing
Publication date: September 2017
Produced in: Australia
Availability date: September 2017

Roxane Gay’s Hunger

9781472151117Roxane Gay’s memoir of body image and sexual trauma is unsparingly honest and confronting. Already a woman I greatly admire for her writing — particularly for the incredible An Untamed State, which is the one constant on my ever-changing list of favourite books — and her unflinching honesty, and take-no-bullshit attitude, I’ve been looking forward to Hunger since its announcement a while back.

And of course it doesn’t disappoint. It was never going to.

Hunger is a gut-wrenching, heart-rending, personal discourse on the brutality of life in a fat body — a queer, Haitian-American fat woman’s body, if you want to be specific — in a world that shames and forgets such people.

Readers would not expect Gay to pull any punches in the telling of her own story, and she certainly doesn’t. Right at the start, she declares that her story is devoid of “any powerful insight into what it takes to overcome an unruly body and unruly appetites.” This isn’t a story about success, but about the eternal struggle she has faced, and continues to face, coping with the fallout of a terrible violation in her youth. The personal demons that haunt Gay stem from a devastating gang rape at the age of 12, which is rendered so starkly here, so incredibly powerfully, it is something I will never forget. It is harrowing, and so Goddamn fucking awful, that a young woman’s innocence and youth could be stolen in such a way. That it’s endemic in our society is shameful.

Moments of lightness — a self-deprecatory humour — punctuate Hunger; genuinely hilarious laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Gay describes her perspective on the “exceedingly thin people at the gym” with their “placid facial expressions” and their outfits which constitute “shorts so short that the material is more a suggestion than an actual item of clothing”; her relationship with her personal trainer; or how when she played soccer as a child, she’d be more focused on the grass than the game going on around her.

Gay’s account of life in a “fat body” struck a chord for me, reminding me of my adolescence as a fat teenager. I should make it clear: my body was of my own making: not the consequence of a terrible experience, just human weakness, and the continual submission to my personal deficiencies. So I can’t pretend my experience was anything like Gay’s, not really; especially in a society where it’s more acceptable for a man to be overweight than a woman. But I am cognisant of the horridness of an existence in a body society frowns upon.  I endured the cruel taunts from those around me, but the most savage always came from my own mind: so many days and nights spent lamenting my body, knowing its condition was my own fault, but unable — well, in my case, unwilling — to do anything about it. At least for a time, until one day something snapped, and I made a decision to do something about my weight, before the situation was taken out of my hands. But how I was then, and what I am now — at my worst I was 120kgs, and my lightest I was 65kgs — has stayed with me. My weight still fluctuates, and if I’m totally honest, my experiences as a fat kid continue to influence — more like haunt — my life today. I run, just about every day, to chase away the memory of my past self.


Sixteen-year-old me

Hunger is about the consequences of being gang-raped when Gay was 12. It’s about being the daughter of middle-class Haitian immigrants and not fitting into the narrative of blackness, and it’s about being a feminist. It is raw and powerful, and essential reading for everyone. It’s a book I won’t forget. It’s a book I can’t forget.

ISBN: 9781472151117
ISBN-10: 1472151119
Format: Paperback (160mm x 232mm x 24mm)
Pages: 288
Imprint: Corsair
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Publish Date: 6-Jul-2017