Once upon a time weekends were for partying, with a constant supply of new frocks, impossible shoes, make-up, booze, and friends. This lasted, as an impression if not a way of life, for about twenty years. Though marriage, motherhood and all that those entail meant things became less extravagant from my mid twenties, I still hung on to the idea that weekends were for fun until, inevitably, even the notion of the wild night out lost its lustre. I’m not sure quite when my concept of a purposeful weekend morphed from frantic to relaxed, but it was probably something to do with going out to work full time (when my son was a teenager) and being too tired to do anything more than run round the house with a vacuum cleaner before collapsing in the nearest armchair. But now weekends are definitely for reading, no matter what else is happening around me.
I do read during the week between other tasks, but this is mostly poetry, which is easy to dip in and out of, and non-fiction research material (currently the letters of Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder), with a little bit of fiction at bed time. But at the weekend I try to do nothing but read. I ignore my emails as much as I can, put all concerns to one side, and from breakfast to bedtime I bury myself in books. Which isn’t to say my life, or weekend, is party free. Friday nights D plays in a local hotel bar and invariably brings a posse of revellers back here, so I join them for wine infused chats while searching the cupboards for salty snacks to dot about the table in charming bowls.
It is, in fact, these Friday nights that instigated my weekend readathons. Too tired and hungover to think for myself on a Saturday I sought solace in fiction (and creative non-fiction), and soon extended this festival of light to Sundays too. It’s perfect, I like it so much I’m finding it quite difficult to not extend it to Mondays.
This weekend’s book was The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell. Bythell has owned and run The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland’s largest secondhand bookshop (a place I have yet to leave empty handed) for seventeen years. So he knows a lot about buying and selling books, living from hand to mouth in a freezing but beautiful Georgian building, and the idiosyncrasies of bookshop customers. I worked in a second hand bookshop for about two years and all of it rang true. The customer who thinks ten pounds is too much to pay for a rare book that he’s been looking for for years; the ones who take umpteen books off the shelves, flick through them for hours, don’t buy any of them and leave them on the floor; those who have no intention of buying but just come in to bore you with their knowledge of hernias/piles/lampposts of the 1950s… But also the lovely ones: small children clutching the contents of their piggy banks looking for birthday presents for their mothers; men and women who have built schools in war torn countries; climbed Everest; played second clarinet for the Ballet Russe, and now collect hand illustrated first editions. He’s brilliant on the joy of finding a diamond in the dustheap of a garage full of mice eaten penny fiction, at the sadness of dealing with the recently bereaved, and at sharing his love of reading. I finished the book yesterday afternoon with a list of new titles to look out for next time I’m in his, or any other, secondhand book shop. And I will never shop on amazon again.
Diary of a Bookseller was a great weekend read, neither too challenging (Kafka would have killed me by making me think too much) nor the kind of light stuff people so like to read on holiday (something I really don’t get, who wants to return from a trip more stupid than when s/he left?); it was intelligent, illuminating, and, at times, hilarious. If you’re anything like me you’ll want to both hug and strangle Nicky.
All images from Pinterest except the book which came from the publisher’s website: https://profilebooks.com/the-diary-of-a-bookseller.html