A Year In Books

37788084343093605_97fq9uva_fTwo factors came together at the beginning of last week to make me stop and ponder.  First, it was my birthday and before you ask, I was 64. There is absolutely no point in being coy about these things.  Lots of kind messages were sent, much cake was eaten (mostly by The Bears!) and presents were unwrapped.  But, as I was unwrapping said presents a hard truth hit me. No one ever buys me books.

I always buy people books.  If you get a present from me at least you always know what shape it’s going to be.  But, nobody ever buys me books.

Now, I understand why this is.  I am everyone’s ‘go to person’ for what books to read, what books to buy for themselves, what books to give as gifts to others.  However, this makes them cagey about buying books for me because they’re scared I will have already read whatever they choose.  They could, of course, ask me, but oh no, then it wouldn’t be a surprise. Even better they could buy me book tokens (I love book tokens) but (horror!) that would be so impersonal.  So instead they buy me soap or stationery or ………  You get the idea.  OK, so I know I should be grateful for the fact that I have so many good friends who think about me on my birthday but that doesn’t stop my heart yearning for that occasional book shaped parcel.

So there I was last Monday surrounded by soap and stationery and the odd remaining cake crumb and wishing that I had the excuse to go and wander round a book shop and come out with a parcel of new books to look forward to, books that had been chosen just for me and would tempt me into discovering new authors that no one could think I had already read. But, that sort of journey of discovery really demands the type of bookshop we no longer have locally.  Our last independent bookshop closed over three years ago now and while I do have two Waterstones within reasonably easy reach no one there is going to have the time, or the knowledge of my tastes, to be able to offer me the juicy literary morsels that I was hankering after.  That’s when the second factor came into play.

From somewhere in the dregs that I call my brain I remembered reading about a small bookshop located in London that was the first port of call for serious readers who wanted to stock up on books that would feed their own particular needs but who had no local access to good bookshops. A further dredge amongst the little grey cells brought the name Dirk Bogarde to mind.  I was sure he mentioned a bookshop in London that he used in this way after he moved to France.  I went searching and came up with a name, Heywood Hill.

Heywood Hill can be found in Curzon Street in the heart of Mayfair.  It can also be found on line.  I took myself off to the website.  Oh my goodness! Go there right now and just look at the history of this place.  Not only do they have the Royal Warrant but, possibly more important to the literary mind, Nancy Mitford actually worked there.  I can tell you, I was salivating just at the thought of the riches such a place must house.

And then I noticed this:


Put your reading in the hands of our expert booksellers and discover a wealth of literary delights. The ultimate present for the avid bibliophile A Year In Books is a truly bespoke service. After an initial reading consultation, the recipient will receive twelve beautifully wrapped books over the course of a year carefully chosen to suit their reading tastes by their personal bookseller.

A bespoke reading service!  What more could any reader ask for?

The shop offers three different packages.  You can opt for either a hardback or a paperback subscription and there is a children’s service available as well.

A bespoke reading service!  Perhaps this was the answer to my lack of book shaped parcels.  Perhaps what I should do was give myself a birthday present, put myself in the hands of Heywood Hill’s capable staff and receive a new book every month for the next year.  But, were they really capable hands?  Was this really my sort of bookshop?  I sat there last Monday evening, finishing off those final cake crumbs, with those thought niggling away at my mind.



49 thoughts on “A Year In Books

  1. I would be very intrigued by that service! I’m curious about the consultation – and also adding the store to my list, for the next time I’m lucky enough to visit London (it’s gotten to be quite a long list, with several bookstores on it now).

  2. And a belated happy birthday too! Meant to write that first, and then got distracted by the thought of unknown books arriving in the post.

    1. Thank you, Lisa. Do go and visit if you get the chance. It’s not far from Fortnum and Mason’s so you can end up there for afternoon tea if you’re around at the right time of day. You can have the consultation over the phone, but I needed to go and check out the shop first to make sure that they sold my sort of books. It might sound snobbish, but I think you will know what I mean.

  3. This sounds like a wonderful idea! People very rarely buy me books either – again for the same reason, that they wouldn’t know if I’d read it already, or my Mum’s incomprehensible idea that I have too many books already so couldn’t possible need another!

    1. Yes, Jennifer, you do meet people with some very funny ideas about book, don’t you (with apologies to your Mum). How anyone could possibly have too many books is incomprehensible to me. In fact I think it is probably a law of the Universe that there is no such thing as too many books.

    1. Thank you. The post was getting too long for its own good so I thought I’d better break it in half. The second instalment will be up soon, I promise.

  4. oh I am sorry you don’t get book shaped parcels – they are the joy of my Christmases and birthdays – I do have to provide people with lists – and links to certain web sites where my favourites can be obtained – but if the list is long enough they are a surprise. Having said that I know I am getting The Goldfinch for Christmas.
    I love the idea of that bespoke service – how exciting that would be.

    1. I’d be quite happy with book tokens, Ali. I love browsing round bookshops knowing that I can spend without my bank manager getting all hot and bothered, but even those don’t come my way.

  5. Are we sisters? Do we have the same friends? No one but my husband ever gives me books. He’s really good at it and I love him for it, but just once I’d like other people to give me books too or even a gift card to a bookstore but I don’t get those either. Sigh. The year of books looks wonderful. You decided to do it didn’t you? 🙂

    1. I would be honoured to have you as a sister, Stefanie but I don’t know whether to be sorry or glad that you have the same problem. I’m assuming this is why you agreed to marry Bookman? I can tell you that the chap I was dating who when asked to give me book tokens bought me an electric toothbrush instead got dumped pretty damn quick!

      1. An electric toothbrush? Oh dear. Bookman and I shared a mutual admiration for the other’s book collection and have been feeding our book addiction together ever since. He totally understands my irritation when my mother gives me a check as a birthday present and tells me to not spend it on books. 🙂

  6. I’ll be very curious to hear how this goes. One of my local bookstores has a similar service, and I’ve thought about trying it, but I’ve wondered if they’d end up just choosing popular books that most people like, rather than something truly personalized. They have another book-a-month program that isn’t personalized, and I did that for a year, and it was fun to get book-shaped surprises in the mail. But I still wonder about the more personalized version.

    1. One of the reasons that (as you will discover) I eventually decide to go with this was that the shop didn’t appear to be the sort that stocked books just because everyone liked them and the bookseller seemed really pleased at the idea of meeting the very specific challenge I set her. I’ll give it a year and see how it goes, if only because I suspect it will be the sort of service that will get more appropriate the longer it goes on.

  7. Happy (belated) birthday! 64 sounds like a most excellent age. How many ages have been immortalized in songs by the Beatles, after all? 🙂 Nobody really gives me books anymore either, unless they’re chosen from a ‘wish list’. I regret it a little, but it was also frustrating sometimes with such a list of books I knew I wanted to read, to be staring at a pile of books I wasn’t necessarily interested in. Gift cards (or tokens) give the real gift of guilt-free book browsing and shopping, which is not at all impersonal really! That said, it was good to get pushed out of my comfort zone sometimes! And I’m very glad I have one fearless friend whose passion is sending book parcels: he’s always sending me things I’d never even heard of (like the wonderful collected letters of Ursula Nordstrom which was joyously great.) That service sounds both enticing and worrisome, then: what a shame if you didn’t like the books they chose? You must report!

    1. As you might imagine, Rohan, The Bears insisted on singing that song all day, I suspect as a ploy to get me to ply them with cake to keep them quiet. Getting pushed out of my comfort zone is one of the things that I hope will come out of this venture. I know there is a possibility that I won’t like the books they choose but the bookseller with whom I spoke seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of meeting the requirements I laid down and at the end of the day it is only for a year in the first instance. If it doesn’t work out them I can always cancel at the end of the year.

  8. Oh if I’d known I would have sent you something. I see why your friends would hesitate to buy you a book when they know how widely read you are. But stationery and soapy stuff are not good alternatives. They don’t come anywhere as near in the pleasure stakes. And heaven forbid they bought you a scented candle (I think if anyone in my family bought me one they’d get short shrift).
    Of course I could not resist taking a peek at Heywood Hill’s website. Wish I had enough pennies in the bank to take advantage of the service where they help you create a library. I might just have to settle for the Year of Reading instead. They also have a list of 100 books nominated by leading figures in politics, arts, history etc.

    1. No candles scented to otherwise, thank goodness, Karen. Although they would beat the electric toothbrush I was once bought having specifically asked for book tokens. I know what you mean about the library service. The problem is they would have to build me a library to put it in as well!

  9. Happy Birthday wishes! Well, it seems there are many of us booklovers who don’t get books for their birthday or Christmas. I’d be delighted with book tokens, but never get them, and even though I have a wishlist of books, apart from my husband, the family ignores it.

    I’m not sure I’d go for the bespoke reading service, but it does sound interesting – if a tad expensive.

  10. How brilliant and cool! I am a sucker for the idea of a well-curated something-selection service, although I’d be much more leery of a selection service for books than for, say, nail polish.

    I am also baffled that nobody buys you books. Do you — well you may not want to do this but you could — keep an Amazon wish list, or just a regular wish list? My mother is also a huge reader and thus sometimes intimidating to buy for, but a big pile of books makes her Christmas perfect, so I just keep a list all year of books I might maybe get her, and then when Christmas rolls around I advise friends-and-relations accordingly. Could someone do that for you?

    1. I hadn’t thought about the wish list idea, Jenny. it’s not something I’ve ever kept. If this doesn’t work out them I will certainly investigate it.

  11. Happy Birthday! I don’t get given many books either so I sympathise. Sounds a lovely idea – my local indie bookshop offers a similar service. Here’s hoping that it works 🙂

    1. many thanks for the good wishes, Annabel. I’m just so jealous that you’ve got a local indie still. If this doesn’t work out then I might approach an indie I know which is about ninety minutes drive away and see if they would be willing to do it as a one off.

  12. I can’t wait to hear the rest of your story! This sounds like a book service made in heaven….. I will visit the bookstore next time I am in London. I hope you had a wonderful birthday!

  13. Happy belated birthday. Typically, I get books as gift from my boyfriend, mother and brother. And I Iove it. It’s the best gifts! I’ve raised my kids so whenever I ask them what we should gift someone, they answer ‘a book’! I’m very proud of them. 🙂
    I put (mostly) books on my wish list for Christmas and Birthdays so people know which books to get me.
    That bookstore sounds amazing! Next time I’m in London, I have to visit!

    1. A wish list is a really good idea if other people are willing to consult it but it’s never been a tradition amongst my friends so I’m not sure they would take to the idea. I wish they would.

  14. Happy belated birthday! I hope you enjoyed some of that cake, too! 🙂 I am lucky in that I at least do get gift cards (an easy gift for them and a happy one for me!), but I rarely get an actual book! Do give this a go as I am very intrigued. I love the idea and wonder if they do a overseas sort of thing. I do the NYRB subscription, so it is similar but the books aren’t tailored specifically for me. Sounds like a lovely bookshop, too!

    1. Yes, Danielle, I noticed when I was there that there was a little note stuck on Lisa’s computer giving the prices for oversea’s subscriptions. So, even though I don’t think it’s mentioned on the website if you’re interested it would be wroth getting in touch with them. I’ve heard lot about the NTRB subscription and have a number of blogging friends who belong but as far as I know there isn’t anything similar run by the press in the UK.

  15. That does sound like a wonderful service, and do have to say that a family that gives books as presents is not always a good thing. My partner is trained to look at the Persephone catalogue, but I have had a couple of horrors from people who don’t quite understand, and I can still remember my aunt telling me at length about the book she wanted to get me but couldn’t find and being so relieved, because it wasn’t me at all. There are few sadder gifts than the wrong book, but a carefully chosen book by the right bookish person should be perfect – ideally the book you didn’t know you wanted until it was in your hands.

    1. That is always the dreadful possibility, isn’t it Fleur. It’s one of the reasons I always ask people if they would rather run the risk of my choosing a book for them or have tokens. In fact, most opt for the book.

  16. Happy belated birthday!! This services sounds marvelous — or like it could be marvelous, given the right conditions. I love the idea of a surprise every month. I participate in one book subscription service right now, which I may blog about later, and it’s great, but the books aren’t personalized.

    1. I’m going to give it a year, Rebecca and see how it goes. i recognise that there may be some books I don’t like but I think it will do me good to be taken out of my comfort zone.

  17. A bespoke book service!! I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe!

    (Happy belated birthday! All I want for gifts is books too; it’s shocking how much that frightens people. Sigh.)

    1. It does rather take your breath away, doesn’t it Colleen. And it’s such a good idea. When I was teaching I used to love matching books with the children in my class. I can imagine that it would be a pleasure for booksellers to do the equivalent.

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