It is often said of the writer Stephen King that if he published his shopping list, people would rush out to buy it. This isn’t really a derogative observation – at least I don’t think it is – merely a reflection on the fact that the author’s prose is so incredibly readable. The best writers (in my opinion) have the ability to engage you with their prose, not just impress you with their vocabulary. They work hard to make each word count, so that you savour the individual choice of word. Nicholas Royle’s White Spines – Confessions of a Book Collector is one such book. I was interested in reading this non-fiction title because Royle himself seems to be a fascinating man, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how fascinating it was to read the thoughts of a man detailing, amongst other things, his book-collecting obsession.
To be fair, there is far more to this book than just that. As well as covering Royle’s dogged pursuit of tracking down every Picador book from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s (as well as certain other books like Sceptres, King Penguins, Abacus, Vintage, Fontana Agatha Christie’s featuring Tom Adams’ covers, Paladins, etc) he also touches on his fascination with discovering ‘inclusions’ within second-hand books (personal items belonging to a previous owner that were perhaps used as a bookmark) and the nature of finding inscribed books and how they came to find their way onto the second-hand market. He reflects on many of the inscriptions, even displaying some minor research that he has done into the background of who these people in the inscriptions might be.
Royle has a relaxed, informal tone; at times it’s laugh out loud funny, and his personality and insecurities come across in the prose, a facet I found reassuringly enduring and relatable. It’s great to hear someone else talk with such passion about books and reading, as well as the nature of being a collector (of anything really), or even just about the respective qualities of a particular bookshop. Royle writes with great enthusiasm about a book’s cover art too, and his interest in an author’s connection with their own first published novel. There are snippets of overheard dialogue mixed with fragments of dreams, so much so that it’s sometimes tempting to wonder whether the author has penned a novel, instead of a piece of non-fiction – or autofiction as it’s usually known – although I suppose it doesn’t really matter, as the end result is so engrossing nonetheless.
I came away from this book with a renewed appreciation of bookshops and second-hand books, as well as a ‘wanted list’ of titles and authors, and a reference of bookshops to visit when I’m out and about. I had a wonderful time reading this, and I can heartily recommend it. Oh, and just for the record – I don’t think I’d be that interested in reading Stephen King’s shopping list, but I’d definitely pay good money to read Nicholas Royle’s.