Since buying the Magida, I've come across the same horizontally placed colophon on two more old Picadors – John Fowles's The Magus and WB Yeats's Collected Poems. I bought The Magus even though I already had a 'correct' copy, so now I have two copies of that novel in Picador, one 'good' and one 'bad'. If I ever see the Yeats with a vertical colophon I'll buy that, too.
I have a copy of Charles Nicholl's The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe. It's a Picador and it also dates from 1993. Maybe the planets were in misalignment that year. Every time I walk past my Picador shelves, I regard this book with distaste. I give a little shiver. It's been badly trimmed and is five millimetres shorter than the books either side of it. Five millimetres. That's half a centimetre. Picture it. As soon as I find a reasonably priced replacement in a charity shop, this copy is history. They have a correctly trimmed copy among the secondhand paperbacks at my local independent bookshop, Morten's, in Didsbury Village, but it's £3 and I don't know if I can justify spending £3 on five millimetres when it's not even for charity.
Also at Morten's they have a Picador edition of The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher. I caught sight of it there about a week ago, but saw immediately it wasn't quite right. I placed it next to the other Picadors they had – a Jonathan Raban and a Don DeLillo, both of which I have, in those editions – and saw it was, like the Charles Nicholl on my shelf, five millimetres short of the correct size. I didn't buy it, because there are mistakes and there are mistakes. A horizontally placed colophon is weird and worth keeping as a curiosity, but a badly trimmed copy is just a badly trimmed copy and of no interest. Not like a spelling mistake. Imagine a spelling mistake on the spine of your book. Michael Kelly, author of Martyrs' Day, doesn't have to imagine it. On the spine of a 1994 Picador edition, he is Micheal Kelly. On the spine of a 1991 Picador edition of Oliver Sacks's A Leg to Stand On, the author and professor of neurology became briefly plural.
What is it about spines? Is the spine a weak point? Is it that when an editor or an art editor is checking a final proof, assuming it's on screen and assuming they don't turn the cover through 90 degrees, they are reading letters on their side and so it's easier to miss a couple of transposed vowels or an extra 's'? That's my theory anyway and I quite like it.
I'm not having a go. I have nothing but respect, affection and admiration – love, even – for Picador's output between 1972 and 1999. A small handful of anomalies and typos out of more than 600 books (the current size of my collection) is pretty good going. Who doesn't make mistakes?
I buy the short copy of MFK Fisher's The Art of Eating, which I notice on Twitter or Instagram is being reissued by Daunt Books, because I remember that my agent, John Saddler, collects books about cooking. Not cookbooks, but books about cooking. Did he say cooking or food – books about food? I can't remember, even though it wasn't long ago. It was the day we went to the Osterley Bookshop. So I buy The Art of Eating from Morten's and take it home where I allow it to sit, very briefly, on my shelf while I photograph it, to show you how wrong it looks, and then I take it off the shelf and stick it in a padded envelope and write John's address on the front. I hope he will get more pleasure out of it than it could possibly ever give me. I feel fairly sure he won't mind about the five millimetres.