I’m a reader rather than a collector which is probably a good thing, keeping my book acquisitions clear of duplicates (or worse) bought because I couldn’t resist a new edition’s cover. Nicholas Royle is both but his collecting habits are very particular: his imprint of choice is Picador, the white spined variety although he has stretched to the black Picador Classics list over the years. White Spines is his entertaining memoir of book collecting, perfect for the more nerdish bibliophile which might well be you, dear reader.
I might be indiscreet, but I’ll try not to offend. I may occasionally go into slighlty bewildering detail, but I’ll try not to be boring
I’ve always been partial to Picador’s list although not nearly so partial as Royle who conceived a passion for the imprint when he was a student, a decade after Sonny Mehta set it up in 1972. Mehta’s objective was to publish outstanding international writing, launching with eight titles from authors ranging from Angela Carter to Jorge Luis Borges. The one that first caught Royle’s eye was Anna Kavan’s Ice. Over the years, he became smitten with the list, an obsession that has taken him into a multitude of second-hand bookshops searching for those distinctive white spines which disappeared with the advent of wraparound covers, surprisingly only acknowledging to himself in 2016 that he was on a mission to collect the lot. Other imprints snuck in – he discovered a liking for Paladins and King Penguins, shelving them all by imprint in the manner of some bookshops. I remember Foyles doing this back in the day but that had more to do with publisher discounts than passion. Multiple copies are bought – at one point he wonders about constructing an art installation comprising a collection of Graham Swift’s Last Orders, the Picador most encountered in second-hand bookshops, but after buying quite a few, decides against it. Irresistible ‘inclusions’ – inscriptions, notes, tickets – result in further duplications plus a bit of sleuthing on the internet following up their contents. Royle rounds it all off with a list of his Picadors, collected over nearly forty years, divided by spine: white and ‘anomalies’.
Unless I say I want to go to Oxfam, in which case he’ll probably come in with me. If that happens , we will inevitably stand looking at the books together and it will be like standing at the urinals next to someone you know and finding yourself unable to go
Short story writer, novelist, publisher, editor and habitue of second-hand bookshops, Royle is thoroughly immersed in the book world, a man who likes to read while he walks. Stuffed full of bookish anecdote and trivia, his book is both funny and informative. He’s a man who can’t pass an Oxfam bookshop without going in, fretting over whether he should ignore the Notting Hill branch he’d not come across before, knowing it might make him late for his interview with publisher Patrick Janson-Smith, yet unable to resist. Overheard conversations and dreams – he’s a man who dreams about bookish encounters – pop up now and again as we meet Picador authors, publishers, art directors and booksellers. I loved this funny, discursive book which took me back to my own early bookselling days when Picador spines were still white. Kudos to Salt Publishing for their attention to detail, decking Royle’s books out as an old school Picador and including a puff from Picador author and bibliophile Cathy Rentzenbrink on the cover.
If I’ve whetted your appetite for White Spines you might like to order it direct from Salt. You won’t regret it.
Salt Publishing: Cromer 9781784632137 245 pages Paperback