Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Badly Signed Books

Signed books fascinate me. I can't stop myself from taking a peek whenever I see an example on the shelf and I snapped these three recently because two of them demonstrate something that particularly galls me.

Unfortunately, I don't own any of the three books (though I really covet the one of the right). On the left is the 'signature' of children's author Derek Landy. The middle is, obviously, Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher books. On the right is a copy of the book for which Julian Barnes won the Man Booker Prize. Needless to say, I only consider one of these to be a 'signed' edition. The other two are merely 'scrawl'.

Derek Landy and Lee Child aren't the only examples of this and it would be extremely unfair to single them out. However, looking at my own shelves here, I can't find anything as bad as these.

Will Self's signature might be a bit cryptic but at least he lifted his pen off the page more than twice.

Steve Martin's looks like Stan Martin but it's an authentic bit of penmanship...

And I really can't complain about my copy of Howard Jacobson's Finkler's Question. Real pen mileage went into this signature.

This made me wonder. Why do too many writers resort to the initial and line technique? The Landy and Child are merely the best/worst  I have at hand (I tend not to buy signed copies, even of authors I like, when their' signatures look like they sneezed whilst signing them) but what passes through the mind of the author when scrawling something like this? I assume it's boredom, an indifference to the task at hand. It's as perfunctory as a dog pissing to mark its territory. Is there something deeply psychological in the way you write your name? Is the most telling detail found not in the first letters but what comes after? Writers who scrawl a line with the merely hint towards their initials seem to say to me: I really don't care about my readers. I have neither the time nor the energy to invest any effort into this signature, even if I know you'll cherish it. Of course, they might (and probably would) argue that they're signing thousands, perhaps (if they're lucky) tens of thousands, but isn't this also true of Julian Barnes who is (arguably) the more successful writer? What about Alan Bennett? I own two of his signed books and they're signed exactly the same way as he signs his letters (the inset example is from the letter I published in my Stan Madeley book).

If Alan Bennett doesn't have a 'signing scrawl', why should other authors be so sloppy? I know you can't read the character of a person simply by examining their handwriting but I can't help but wonder if the way the sign their books is significant. I cherish a well-signed book. The rest, for me, are not worth the paper they're scribbled on.


  1. I've got an example of one of Robert Rankin's *less extravagant* signings:


  2. Ah, how that's what I mean by a great signature! You look at that and don't think to yourself, 'oh, I was one of a thousand they signed that day'. It's like my Ralph Steadman autographs. Each one a little work of art and, even if they're similar to others, they are unique. I'm sure I have other bad signatures knocking around but I'm now determined to find the perfect bad signature... The closer to a horizontal line they get, the worse they are. ;)