My (Tiny) Collection of Signed Copies

The other day I discovered a pencil-written recipe in the back of a secondhand book I got for Christmas. It got me thinking about handwriting in books: signatures, inscriptions, previous owners’ names, marginalia, and so on. If I can find enough examples of all those in my personal library, I might turn this into a low-key series. For now, though, I’ve rounded up my signed copies for a little photo gallery.


I’ve never placed particular value on owning signed copies of books. I’m just as likely to resell a signed book or give it away to a friend as I am a standard copy. The signed books I do have on my shelves are usually a result of having gone to an author event and figuring I may as well stick around for the signing. A few were totally accidental in secondhand purchases.

Though I’ve had personal correspondence with Paulette Bates Alden and love the three books of hers that I’ve read, this signature is entirely coincidental, in a used copy from Amazon. Shame on Patti for getting rid of it after Paulette’s book club visit in 2000!

I love Karen Armstrong’s work, especially her two memoirs about deciding not to be a nun, and A History of God. I’ve seen her speak twice and am always impressed by her clear reasoning. (Tell you a secret, though: I couldn’t get through this particular book.)

While my husband worked at Royal Holloway we saw Alain de Botton speak at the Runnymede Literary Festival and I had him sign a copy of my favorite of his books.

Krista Detor is one of our favorite singer-songwriters. We’ll be seeing her play for the fourth time in March. Luckily for us (but unluckily for the world, and for her coffers), this folk songstress from Indiana is unknown enough to play folk clubs and house concerts on both sides of the Atlantic. She wrote a book documenting the creative process behind her next-to-last album; when I saw her in Maryland she signed it with “Maybe see you across the pond!”

I have yet to read one of Melissa Harrison’s books, though I’m interested in her novels and her book on British weather. However, she edited the Seasons anthologies issued by the Wildlife Trusts last year – two of which my husband’s writing appeared in. When she spoke on the University of Reading campus about notions of the countryside in literature, my husband went along to meet her and bought a paperback of her second novel for her to sign.

I’ve seen David Lodge speak twice, both times at the London Review Bookshop. He’s one of my favorite authors ever but, alas, isn’t all that funny or personable live; his autobiography is similarly humorless compared to his novels. Deaf Sentence was a return to his usual comic style after his first stab at historical fiction (Author, Author, about Henry James’s later life). The second time I saw him he was promoting A Man of Parts, which again imagines the inner life of a famous author – this time H.G. Wells.

An obscene bargain from Amazon that just happened to be signed. I’m looking forward to starting this one soon: books about book are (almost) always such a cozy delight.

Plus three signed copies languishing in boxes in America:

  • Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott: I love Lamott’s nonfiction but have never tried one of her novels. I found this one at a library book sale, going for $1; I guess nobody noticed the signature.
  • The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang: I originally read the book via NetGalley, but it quickly became a favorite. After she saw my five-star review, Maya asked me to help her out with word-of-mouth promotion and was kind enough to send me a signed copy as thanks.
  • The Life of D.H. Lawrence: An Illustrated Biography by Keith M. Sagar: Sagar was one of the keynote speakers at the D.H. Lawrence Society of North America conference I attended in the summer of 2005.

Do you deliberately buy signed copies? What are some of the jewels in your collection?

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26 thoughts on “My (Tiny) Collection of Signed Copies

  1. I bought The Common Reader in part because there was a sticker with AB’s signature inside. The only other signed book I have is Animal by Sara Pasco, and technically it’s a drawing of a mouse (by Sara) and not a signature.

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  2. I’ve got a signed copy of A Rose for Winter by Laurie Lee which I treasure – but I wish it was Cider with Rosie instead!
    I think you’ll enjoy Melissa Harrison’s work. I definitely think she is ‘one to watch’.

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  3. Really enjoyed this post 🙂 like you, I think a lot (maybe all) of my signed copies are from author events. I think I generally take the opportunity to gush at them whilst getting my book signed!
    Interesting about David Lodge, I’ve yet to read any of his work though have copies of The Art of Fiction and Nice Work – do you have a favourite book of his? 🙂

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    1. Whereas I’m so awkward meeting authors I barely say a word 😉

      Nice Work is the third book of a loose trilogy of academic comedies. The first two, Changing Places and Small World, are probably my favourites of his fiction. I also especially love Paradise News, Therapy and Thinks.

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  4. As far as I can remember I only have two signed books; one is The Bully Pulpit by Doris Goodwin, which I got as swag from a conference I attended where she was speaking; the other is a second-hand copy of Dreams of a Rainbow by Kauraka Kauraka, a pretty obscure book by an author from the Cook Islands that I read as part of the reading-around-the-world project that I blog about. Apparently the first purchaser didn’t enjoy it any more than I did. I don’t go to many readings or signings (though I should) but when I do I’m usually too shy to approach anyone I’ve heard of.

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      1. Thanks! Yeah, I was pretty thrilled about the Goodwin book. Unlike you, I actually get really excited about signed copies, I just have made no effort thus far to collect them.

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  5. Interesting post! I’ve got a signed Francis Brett Young that I did buy on purpose; I decided not to try for signed ones when putting together my collection of Iris Murdoch first editions. I have more signed ones from book events and friends than any others, like other people.

    My husband has read that Karen Armstrong! We found it in the hotel library in ?Tunisia and he worked his way dutifully through it on the holiday and for a while afterwards!

    I agree with your favourite David Lodges. I have met him a couple of times, as he was a Honorary Professor at Birmingham when I was there; I have even had a drink “with” him (and a circle of others) and was touched that when I asked him which book my husband, then working in the Psychology dept, would enjoy, he said something along the lines of he would probably enjoy Thinks … most but he didn’t have to read any of them.

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    1. I imagine signed Murdoch first editions would be quite expensive?

      I’ve read most of Armstrong’s books, but I think it unlikely that I’ll go back to that one in particular.

      Maybe you think I’m too harsh about Lodge’s personability; I don’t think he came off particularly well at the two LRB events, though of course he speaks knowledgeably about his subjects and thoughtfully about his own experience. I imagine he’s more comfortable in smaller social situations as his near-deafness makes big crowds difficult. I’m very impressed that you’ve met him!

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      1. I think because he gave a few lectures while I was at university, I think of him in that role rather than as an inspiring and entertaining speaker (that sounds awful, as obviously lecturers should be both, but you know what I mean). He is a nice but fairly quiet chap in my experience. Gosh, I must have met him first in 1991 and last in about 2011! And yes, signed Murdochs become too expensive, unsigned firsts are not too bad, as she’s not popular at the moment.

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  6. I’ve got quite a stash of signed books growing, a few are from charity book auctions, one in particular is a signed Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I was so excited when I was the winning bidder and as it was for charity it felt even more special.

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  7. Not that long ago I bought a second hand copy of an early edition of Tony Benn’s diaries, and on getting home and opening it up was delighted to find it is signed by the man himself!

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  8. I’m not a signed-book collector, and wouldn’t go out of my way to get a book signed. Which is just as well, really, because I don’t have many opportunities to do so where I live. I do like to go hear authors speak, though, if I have a chance.
    I do *love* finding things in used books! Inscriptions written by others people, notes in the margins, bookmarks, grocery lists, recipes, etc.. Clues to the person who read/owned the book before me!

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    1. I was much more likely to go to evening author events when I worked in London. Nowadays I hardly ever make it into London because the travel cost makes any event seem pretty expensive.

      I’m going to scour my shelves for more interesting handwriting in books, but I have a feeling a lot of my best examples are in boxes in America. Also, I wish I’d kept the random stuff I found in books (including a hat pin) in situ. Most of it I took out when I bought the books.

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  9. I have a number of signed books, I think around 30 or 40. Particular favourites are two by Terry Pratchett, three by Neil Giaman with another coming this week and four by Ben Aaronavtich. Found quite a few in charity shops too.

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  10. I’ve got quite a large collection these days, having been to many events. I’m crossing my fingers that maybe Paul Auster will sign after his Oxford event at the Sheldonian in March – but I’m not banking on it. One of my jewels though was finding a signed Beryl Bainbridge paperback in a charity shop.

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