Wednesday afternoon the Bookseller turns to me and intones, in his inimicable - and sometimes unfathomable – way “Penguin have dropped a bollock.” I, knowing of old that such a statement will be followed by a hellishly good story, wait with bated breath. He hands me two Penguin versions of Lolita, one part of their brand-spanking new Modern Classics Library imprint featuring Nabokov, the other a standard Penguin issue. I scan the covers for typos but none is apparent and hang on for further enlightenment.
“They’ve only missed out the Foreword, written by Nabokov posing as a certain John Ray, in the new library.” This isn’t good; what makes it ever so slightly more unprofessional and bollock-dropping is that they HAVE included the afterword where it says After doing my impersonation of suave John Ray, the character in Lolita who pens the Foreward ... (sic spelling the Bookseller – I was not around to proof this).
The Bookseller went on to blog this on his world-famous outstanding blog, followed by thousands who, unable to make it to the shop for his pearls of wisdom, follow him adoringly in cyber-space.
This morning I called in only to be greeted by unusual high spirits from the Bookseller, who showed me this quite unbelievable piece in The Bookseller [the online version]. What is striking is the somewhat churlish attitude of Penguin – um, it’s not ‘just a few pages’, it’s an integral part of the novel. It’s like missing out Chapter One. You’d think they’d be grateful that we’d pointed out the error rather than resenting us for having to pulp their entire stock and start over because someone, somewhere was dumb enough to leave it out and then think no-one would notice.
To crown the matter, just as we’re getting over the heady rush of power of the individual (or the ‘small people’ as BP like to put it), the Bookseller then receives an email from the Guardian asking for an interview on his discovery. Has he actually started a publishing shitstorm? Will we ever be able to order from Penguin again? Truly, his power knows no bounds. I am in awe – although not always of his spelling.