Encouraging me in my quest to collect every Picador paperback published between the 1970s and the end of the 1990s – during which period the imprint stuck mainly to a design template of white spine with uniform (or fairly uniform) black lettering – my agent John Saddler offered to take me to Osterley in west London. If anyone offers to take you to Osterley, do accept. There's a park and a house and stuff, but the main draw for me was the bookshop.
Osterley Bookshop, housed in a former railway station, is a throwback in more ways than one. Firstly it's a secondhand bookshop that is surviving well into the 21st century, and secondly there is about it the faintest smell of pre-smoking-ban pubs or top decks of buses. The bookshop is owned by a couple (a music press photographer and an artist) who pursue their other careers in the back rooms and pop through to fill up shelves and help customers empty them again.
There's a box outside. All the best bookshops have a box outside. Bookcase, table, box – it doesn't matter which, as long as there is one. This one contains 'duplicate stock'. From it I select, not a Picador, as I already have two copies of Bridget Jones's Diary, but a King Penguin, because I also collect King Penguins (and Paladin, Sceptre and Abacus etc), a King Penguin edition of Milan Kundera's The Farewell Party. Being outside, it's only a quid. Moving inside, I spot, on a high shelf, Arthur Koestler's The Ghost in the Machine in Picador. I think I already have it, so I leave it. In science fiction, strangely, I see EL Doctorow's World's Fair, also in Picador. I'm not sure if I have it, so I check my photos and I see that I don't and while I'm checking I see that I don't have the Koestler either. I think about leaving the Doctorow because the blue of the front cover bleeds almost two millimetres on to the spine. I know that if I buy it and then find another copy on which there's no bleed, I'll be tempted to buy that as well, but since I've never seen this title before, I decide to get it. And the Koestler.
There's also a box inside the Osterley Bookshop, but instead of books it contains numerous pairs of glasses 'for customer use'. This is a business with vision.
In the middle of paying for my purchases, I see, on a shelf behind the proprietor, a Picador copy of WB Yeats's Collected Poems. My eye immediately snags on the colophon – as you'll know, the insider's term for the publisher's logo – which has been printed horizontally on the spine instead of vertically. In my collection of Picadors, I have only three other editions on which this obscenity has been perpetrated. The first time I saw an example of this aberration, I didn't buy the book in question, thinking it was beyond the pale and I didn't want it in my collection. But that night I couldn't sleep for thinking about it, about its very difference, its otherness, so I went back the next day and it was still there. Now I buy them whenever I see them.
Occasional inconsistencies aside, there is something about Picador and something about that look that they sported during the last three decades of the 20th century. It was simple and classy. It was a guarantee of quality. It also inspired a number of imitators, Paladin, King Penguin, Sceptre, Abacus and Black Swan among them.
As we leave, John asks me what I bought. I show him and make a joke about Doctorow that is so weak – something about a doctor of philosophy – that I doubt he will ever offer to take me to Osterley again.