Two 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:
A YEAR IN BOOKS
ALLOW US TO TAKE YOUR READING SERIOUSLY
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.
TO BE CONTINUED…………