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Nicholas Royle

White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector

White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector


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Editor’s Choice, The Bookseller

A mix of memoir and narrative non-fiction, White Spines is a book about Nicholas Royle’s passion for Picador’s fiction and non-fiction publishing from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s. It explores the bookshops and charity shops, the books themselves, and the way a unique collection grew and became a literary obsession. Above all a love song to books, writers and writing.

Praise for this Book

‘If you have ever lost hours in a secondhand bookshop. If you keep all your orange Penguins on the same shelf at home. If you have sworn in frustration when a publisher changes the cover design of a series you are part-way through collecting. If you covet thy neighbour's bookshelves. If you can recognise a colophon on a spine from a distance of twenty feet. Then this is the perfect book for you.’ —Scott Pack

White Spines by Nicolas Royle is so far up my street it feels like it was written with me in mind. There’s a history of Picador and a quest to collect books, but really it is a relaxed saunter around second-hand bookshops. I share Royle’s fascination with the names and dedications written in books, and with what he terms inclusions; the letters and tickets found tucked inside them. I especially liked the postcard of St Mawes postmarked 1974 in which the sender talks about the view of Falmouth and says they are selling mackerel for 4p each in the harbour. I didn’t want it to end and would like a gargantuan, infinite edition where I could spend the last ten minutes of each day browsing alongside Royle, ever hopeful of finding an exciting inclusion with the pages of an early Picador.’ —Cathy Rentzenbrink

‘A fiercely intelligent memoir of an obsession by one of our leading prose stylists, but also a loving and enormously warm-hearted record of a life lived in books. I adored White Spines and will treasure my copy every bit as much as Royle treasures his beloved Picadors.’ —Alex Preston

Reviews of this Book

‘With apologies to other classics publishers, the truth is I’ve been a bit obsessed with this book since I saw novelist and short story writer Royle tweeting the ultimate in chic shelfies: a photo of his Picador fiction collection, which forms an array of 1,000 white spines spanning the 1970s–90s, and encompassing authors from Chinua Achebe to Fritz Zorn. In this blend of memoir and narrative non-fiction, he explores the bookshops and charity shops where he bought them, the books themselves, and how his collection grew to the point of literary obsession.’ —The Bookseller

‘This book is many things: a travelogue, a guide book, a history of a significant imprint, and a slender autobiography … The covers of his Knut Hamsun’s lead into reflections on art and publishing. He is as happy explaining how key figures, such as Sonny Mehta and Peter Straus worked with the Picador imprint, as finding a new bookshop or a book that he didn’t know was a white spine … As bookselling has become overshadowed by Waterstones, Nick reminds us that second hand bookshops are an important part of our literary culture and that an affordable library is not out of the reach of anyone. The last couple of pages include a defence of fiction that is as surprising as it is profound, worth the price of the book alone.’ —Richard Clegg, Bookmunch

‘What keeps this assortment of reflections and reminiscences hanging together is Royle’s delightful accounts of his trips to charity and secondhand bookshops across the UK: Goldmark Books in Uppingham; George Kelsall Booksellers in Littleborough; Southend; Coventry; Wigtown in Scotland. Over the years, Royle has been everywhere. White Spines is a sort of Bill Bryson for book lovers, wry, cosy and full of amusing asides and lovely cameos.’ —Ian Sansom, The Spectator

‘Light, breezy, and impossible to put down. It’s a beautifully made book, replicating the classic Picador style (a brave move from Salt!). All of which makes it a book that’s well worth collecting.’ —Joe Darlington, Manchester Review of Books

‘It is Royle’s knowledge and ability to write with enthusiasm that draws the reader in. An enjoyable window into the life of an unapologetic collector. A call to appreciate books for more than their words.’ —Jackie Law, neverimitate

‘This summer’s must-read for all book lovers.’ —The Irish Times

‘Royle manages to make the vanishing world of the second-hand bookshops – and, in his scrupulously even-handed account, their charity rivals – seem like an enticing and almost romantic place to be in.’ —Alexander Larman, The Critic

‘It is an absolutely necessity for every bookophile to add it to their libraries. So, I vigorously insist you go and buy a copy right now, today … go on, you won’t regret it for a second.’ —Clare Janet Mason, The Fallen Librarian

‘You really can feel the love of these books lifting from the page, I thought this man seriously knows his stuff, there is so much detail but not in a boring way. There are so many bookshops I can now visit from reading this.’ —Travels Along My Bookshelf

‘White Spines is very different to any other memoir I’ve read. There is no beginning, middle and end – well there but not in a story sense. It’s a work of obsession, a desire to complete a what seems to be a never ending collection.’ —Claire Knight, A Knight's Reads

‘An ode to the book and a journey of delight through the pleasures of being a bookworm.’ —Amy Louise, The Shelf of Unread Books

‘I think most book bloggers and enthusiasts have some insight into what it is like to have a book obsession… I thought I was obsessive – and then I picked up this book and realised I am an amateur!’ —The Quick and the Read

‘This book honestly gets better and better as it amasses more anecdotes and tangential wisdoms about people, books … what is appended to books, favourite bookshops etc. compellingly weaving, for me, the Royle journey through his personal life.’ —Des Lewis, Gestalt Real-Time Reviews

White Spines was sheer joy from start to finish. Entertaining, readable, funny, profound and full of so many fascinating tidbits, it’s the perfect read for any booklover; and I found it really uplifting to read about someone who’s as obsessed with books as am I (and so many others I know). Royle lets his book-hunting experiences during the pandemic slip into the mix, too, in a way that’s always organic and doesn’t dominate his narrative. But it’s clear that he and we all gain so much comfort and support from our books and our collections; and if you love books as much as I do you’ll get great joy from reading White Spines. I can’t recommend it highly enough and it will definitely be one of my books of the year!’ —Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings

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