Another book from my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) recorded in my State of the TBR on 01 August (I have three of the print acquisitions recorded there left to read and all are on my 20 Books pile) and this time it arrived from Paul Half Man Half Book (his review here), who’d somehow come into possession of two copies (Royle would call one of them a shadow copy).

This is the fourteenth book I’ve completed from my 20 Books project (and I’m currently reading Book 15) and also comes off my TBR 2021-2022 total. I feel like I’m making some progress now, although for every slender novel there’s a hefty work of non-fiction to come …

Nicholas Royle – “White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector”

(22 July 2021 – from Paul Half Man Half Book)

If I could just acquire a few more Picadors to edge out those Sceptres and Paladins and King Penguins on the bottom shelf, I’d have a bookcase, a white bookcase no less, full of white-spined Picadors. It would be a think of beauty. It would be a small masterpiece and it would be easier to achieve than the masterpieces I was trying to create at my desk in the attic. (p. 46)

Royle is what you’d call an inveterate collector, of many things beside Picador books – including, pleasingly, Virago Modern Classics, which I also sort of collect. I don’t collect anything in the way he does, but I can see why he does and I can see the attraction of collecting these elegant white spines (see two in the top pic). In fact I started to go through his list of Picadors owned to see how many I also owned, but felt that might be tipping over into Too Much. Paul and Kaggsy both loved this book; I’ve seen one person I follow say it was a bit boring. It might be boring to some people, but reading about various charity and second-hand bookshops and which books he found, then including a potted history of the imprint and notes from various people who’ve been involved in it, going chapter by chapter into other people’s books and their notes of ownership, things found in books, favourite bookshops, pairs of authors with the same name … what’s not to like? There were various serendipitous moments and also mentions of bookshops I actually know, which I will try not to be too boring about below!

A list of things I found fascinating in this book or particularly enjoyed …

  • When you’re a bus or train number collector, you can access a little book you underline the numbers you’ve got in it – I had always wondered how this was done, but had never got round to finding out.
  • The most common Picador books he fines are Last Orders by Graham Swift and Andrea Ashworth’s A House on Fire and now I’m going to be compelled to check for those in each charity shop I go into.
  • He’s completely right on how, when you’re doing a charity shop crawl, the same person will appear by the records or somewhere else, in the same outfit, but already in each shop as you reach it.
  • He’s wrong that the Kings Heath branch of Oxfam Books has more exciting stock than the Moseley one (in my opinion) but it’s very, very exciting to see my two locals mentioned (almost as good as hearing the words “Kings Heath” on the telly twice in three days last week (once during the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, once during that Joe Lycett programme about the RA Summer Exhibition).
  • He’s also wrong that those weird photographic covers on Penguin Iris Murdoch novels are the best ones (in my opinion).
  • I was chuffed that he stood up for Virago Modern Classics when someone said only 5% of them really were classics.
  • He mentions in his Anomalies chapter the “Olivers Sacks” spine error on A Leg to Stand On – see the picture above, I have that one AND Seeing Voices. However, neither appears in his list of Anomalies he owns, even though he includes the one in his Anomalies chapter (rechecking, he doesn’t claim to have it, just to know about it); he does list both in the books he owns so I don’t feel I have to get in touch to offer him my weird ones. Probably.
  • He mentions High Street Books in New Mills and even one of the owners, Adam. That’s a shop I know and people I know and was very exciting to read (though, sorry, not as exciting as seeing Kings Heath or hearing it on the telly).

What an excellent book. I hope my tribute to it is taken in the affectionate way it’s meant, if Royle ever reads this. Thank you to Paul for sending it to me and everyone who recommended it!

This was book number 14 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 8/28 – 20 to go (and I’m currently reading books 9 and 10!)