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Shadow Lines by Nicholas Royle review – buried treasure between the pages

Shadow Lines by Nicholas Royle review – buried treasure between the pages


People who are enthusiastic about a particular interest are often seen as peculiar and are known for gathering with others who share the same passion. They can usually be found on train platforms or near airports, wearing raincoats, recording train numbers, and observing planes taking off. Those who indulge in their interests at home may collect stamps or pin butterflies. It helps them pass the time.

Nicholas Royle, the author of seven novels, two novellas, and four short story collections, is an avid collector of books. When he’s not indulging in his passion for reading, he spends his time writing and publishing books. Through his imprint Nightjar, he produces limited edition single short-story chapbooks.

According to his latest publication, Shadow Lines, it appears that he often spends his leisure time walking throughout the country and stopping at charity shops. He enjoys these walks and will often repurchase books he already owns, simply because he sees no reason not to.

In his charming autobiography, White Spines, published in 2021, he describes his determination to acquire every B-format Picador book released from 1972 to 2000. In his latest work, Shadow Lines, he adopts the approach of a detectorist to search for used paperbacks that contain trivial items left by past owners, which he considers to be valuable treasures.

He is not interested in ordinary bookmarks, instead he desires inscriptions or notes, like the one found in a copy of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho that declares: “I love you more than words can express.” He also enjoys finding surprises, such as a 1,000 lire note in an old copy of Italo Calvino’s book, or a box that once contained a tube of betamethasone cream on page 87 of Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy. He helpfully explains that this cream is a topical corticosteroid.

The main objective is to obtain the former owner’s contact information, specifically their name, phone number, and address. This way, the individual can reach out and offer to return the item they found. Although the response is often “no”, Royle remains persistent (as most enthusiasts are). If someone does agree, the genuine human interaction brings forth a heartwarming feeling.

Royle, who is also a creative writing instructor, reads fluidly while simultaneously noticing errors. In his analysis of Anna Burns’s acclaimed 2018 novel Milkman, he highlights a lack of punctuation. He expresses his disappointment, stating “I would prefer to see a comma both before and after ‘therefore’, but unfortunately it is missing.”

After revisiting the mentioned Auster novel, which is his preferred book, he acknowledges that one of the numerous copies he owns contains at least three spelling errors and a suspicious mark on page 78 that looks like a misplaced period. He then proceeds to mention that these mistakes have been fixed in subsequent versions. How comforting.

Another topic in the book is about books that make brief appearances in movies. If the title is not clear when pausing the DVD, the author will try to determine it based on the cover design. This process can sometimes take weeks of online searching. Additionally, there is a section about the author’s habit of reading while walking. When a passerby criticizes him, the author jokingly replies that they will be featured in his next book, to which the passerby responds by questioning who would actually read it.

There is a compelling viewpoint that this is primarily a specialized issue and one that is essentially unnecessary. However, Royle displays a greater enthusiasm for his topic than EL James did for whips, and it is highly contagious. He balances any potential nitpicking with humorous self-criticism, and personally, I have not found a book this hilarious in quite some time.

His main motivation is to remind just how precious books can be, what they reveal of us and how we should keep them close. If the literary town of Hay-on-Wye hasn’t yet begun preparing a statue of him, it can only be a matter of time.

Source: theguardian.com