A Year in Books ~ Part the Second

100345897916916239_K9VLdzu9_f…..and the niggling went on.  It was not unlike one of those ear-worms you get left with after you’ve listened to a particularly annoying but catchy piece of music. Could these people really be trusted to choose books for me?  Would I look forward to their parcels each month or would the regular delivery become a moment to dread? When the niggle was still there when I woke up on Tuesday morning there was clearly only one thing to do.  Despite the fact that a visit to London wipes me out for the rest of the week, despite that fact that it meant I had to cancel two other entires in my diary, I was going to have to go and investigate first hand.

We will draw a veil over the farce that actually getting to London then became.  I will simply say that having bought my ticket I was going to get there despite the worse that the British railway system could throw at me and those of you who live in the UK at least will have no need for me to elaborate further.  Suffice it to say that the early afternoon saw me wending my way through the streets of central London looking for the royal blue canopy that would indicate I had found the booksellers I was default_1_1looking for.  I was going to put this shop through its paces.

How to describe Heywood Hill?  Well, to start with it’s really very small.  I would imagine that it started life at some point in the Georgian period as a town house.  I could tell you that the ground floor is about twice the size of my living room and the basement slightly smaller but as most of you don’t know my living room that isn’t really that much help. However, as long as you don’t think I live in any sort of a mansion it ought to give you some idea.  They seem to specialise in fiction, biographies, travel, history and children’s literature.  Very sensibly they don’t try and cover everything. And, while the emphasis seems to be on new books, there is also a good back stock of the best of what has gone before.  This is going to sound very suspect, but it feels like a place where books enjoy hanging out.  But, were the books books that I would want to hang out with?  There was only one way to find out.  I headed downstairs to the children’s fiction.

Having spent twenty years lecturing in children’s literature I have some idea of what my notion of a good children’s fiction department should stock.  If they could meet my requirements there I was fairly confident they were going to be up to the task of selecting adult fiction for me.  I settled in for a long browse.

And they came up trumps!

There was a superb mix of the best of the latest (the new Marcus Sedgwick, the latest Jonathan Stroud) the classic (Arthur Ransome, Frances Hodgson-Burnett) and the acceptable and enduring popular (Harry Potter, Jacqueline Wilson).  The picture book election was an absolute delight and I spent far too long reacquainting myself with the work of Shirley Hughes and Anthony Browne.  If there hadn’t been a return train calling me I could happily have still been there when they closed.  This was the shop for me.

So, I went back up the narrow stair to the main part of the shop and made the acquaintance of Lisa.  Lisa is now my personal bookseller!

I explained why I was there, informed her that Heywood Hill had passed muster (!!!) and together we set about building my reading profile.  I’d taken with me a list of all those authors whose new books I would automatically read as soon as I could get hold of a copy.  That, I thought, would give Lisa a good idea of the kind of novel I most enjoy.  However, lest she should think that she was going to have the easy task of just sending me the latest from my top of the pops list, I was quick to explain that that wasn’t what I wanted at all.  No, what I want Heywood Hill to do is introduce me to new authors, writers that I haven’t previously encountered.  I want them to broaden my horizons, not close them down.  I want the best of the unexpected.

Bless her, Lisa didn’t bat an eyelid.  She took down all the details and made me feel as if I’d made her day by coming in with such a challenge.  I left feeling as if I had not only acquired a bookseller but had met a potential new friend: a feeling enhanced the following day when she came back to me several times by email to check various aspects of what we’d discussed.

And so now I wait.  The first of Lisa’s selections will be sent off at the beginning of December.  At last a book shaped parcel  I haven’t selected myself will be coming through my letter box  The excitement is almost too much to bear.  Look out for a series of posts entitled A Year in Reading as I share with you my new discoveries.  And if you are in the Curzon Street area of London yourself at any time then please do go and look out Heywood Hill for yourselves.  I promise you they won’t disappoint.

40 thoughts on “A Year in Books ~ Part the Second

    1. She was such a lovely person, Jenny and knew so much about books I think just going to work every day was a pleasure for her. What wouldn’t I give for a job like that.

  1. I can’t wait to see what they come up with and whether you enjoy them! Like you, people don’t give me books unless I tell them exactly what books I’d like – my whole family does a Christmas list swap at the beginning of December. It does mean we all get things we want – but it tends to eliminate the element of surprise! I’m nearly as excited to see how this works out as you are… 😀

  2. I suspected from your last post that you had gone for it. Sounds like it will be fun for both you and Lisa you personal bookseller! Can’t wait to see what she sends you.

  3. oh wow I can’t wait to hear about your parcels – what an exciting afternoon.
    BTW have you ever read The Bookshop at 10 Curzon street: letters of Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill, fabulous stuff – Nancy Mitford worked there for a short time. (I’m a bit of a Mitford bore)

    1. I knew she had worked there, Ali, but I didn’t know about the book. I love letters so I’ve just ordered a copy. Thanks so much for telling me about it.

  4. I can understand your nervousness because this service doesn’t come cheaply. I’ve always hankered after handmade shoes but a personalised reading list would be a very good number two on the wish list. Now where did I put that money tree?

    1. I’ve not thought about handmade shoes, Karen, and although I can see the attraction I’m afraid the books have to come first every time. When You find that money tree can I have a cutting please?

    1. I just hope the books live up to the billing I’ve given them, Erica. As to the books wanting to hang out there, I know I did. If I lived nearer I would be their best customer just so that I had an excuse to spend time in the shop.

  5. This sounds great. I will look forward to finding out what Lisa and Heywood Hill deliver. Thank you also for giving me the heads up on Heywood Hill itself – I will pay it a visit one day after work. And thank you for happy memories of reading Anthony Browne to my daughter – Gorilla was very much a favourite of ours!!!!

    1. The fact that you can visit after work makes me so jealous, Col, so I think I have the right to make you jealous by telling you that I have a copy of Gorilla that Anthony Browne signed for me and in which he drew the most wonderful gorilla ever. It took him all of fifteen seconds! The man is a genius – and a lovely human being, to boot.

  6. Sounds like a very fun experience, I love books by post services but hadn’t come across this one before. Looking forward to seeing what you get. 🙂

  7. It does sound like a wonderful day (well, at the bookshop if not the travel). Like everyone else, I’ll be waiting to hear about your first book!

    1. The travel is the only reason I’m not going to down to collect the books personally, Lisa. If I lived in London I don’t think I would ever be out of the shop.

  8. That does sound promising. I miss the luxury of an extended period of guilt-free reading that regular train journeys between London and Cornwall used to bring, but now you remind me I could tell you one or two horror stories …

    1. I’ve always thought It was the surest way to know whether a shop really cares about books or if they’re just grabbing at the headliners, Jeanne.

          1. I can’t tell you how important those books were to me in my childhood, Jeanne. I was a land-locked child with no access to water or sailing in any way whatsoever but by the time I’d read through the series I was convinced I knew how to sail. And what do you know, I was right. Ransome’s description of how to handle a boat was so precise and so accurate that when at nineteen I first stepped onto a sailing dinghy I knew exactly what to do. John and Susan taught me to sail as well as Titty and Roger.

  9. A very belated happy birthday from me, Alex. I am on tenterhooks to see how the service pans out. I think that if Lisa comes up trumps, Heywood Hill will have a lot of extra custom as a result of your visit!

    1. Thank you Helen. And I do hope that as many of you as possible will go visiting simply because I know you would love the shop. I’m not sure when you read that their customers include Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley that they are in need of a boost in business.

  10. A belated but heartfelt happy birthday and this sounds fantastic! I am certainly going to track this book shop down next time I’m in London (and with my son there I do have more reason to visit). I look forward to hearing about the books they send!

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