Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Year in Books

Reader, I did it. The most famous line from Jane Eyre has been on my mind ever since I visited the lovely old Heywood Hill shop in London a couple of weeks ago and bought Reader, I Married Him. Edited by Tracy Chevalier, the book is a collection of short stories by writers such as Esther Freud, Jane Gardam and Francine Prose, all inspired by "Jane Eyre." I haven't had a chance to read the stories yet, but did read the fascinating Forward by Tracy Chevalier which explains why this line is so celebrated. The book was commissioned for Charlotte Bronte's two hundredth birthday year which is 2016.

And what was it that I did? Well, I took the plunge and signed up for Heywood Hill's "Year of Books!" Ever since I read about this service many years ago I have been considering it. But I could never quite take the step...

First let me tell you about the service. The Heywood Hill customer pays a fee and the store chooses books after interviewing the recipient about their likes, dislikes, and idiosyncratic interests. The customer receives twelve volumes over the course of a year, beautifully wrapped and delivered monthly. If there is one thing Heywood Hill is known for, it is the ability to build a library for a person's home. Apparently they do this on a regular basis. The "Year in Books" is one way to tap into this knowledge and literary assistance on a much smaller scale.

Now, back to that momentous day in London...It was a beautiful afternoon and my husband and I were walking around Mayfair. I said that we should find Heywood Hill. This Mayfair book shop has a rich history with many famous associations. For example, John Le Carre set a scene there in "Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy." The novelist Nancy Mitford worked there during World War II. And it is currently owned by the 12th Duke of Devonshire, son of Nancy's sister, Deborah Mitford. Go here to learn more. As the stores's mystique was swirling in my head, I remembered that it was located on Curzon Street.

After a quick consultation with our map we found the street but were at the wrong end. I called Heywood Hill and a kind young man stayed on the phone with me until we got there. The store was right next to a construction project and was fairly well hidden from view. And Heywood Hill is a tiny shop. Finally we arrived and there were at least a dozen books I wanted to buy. Exercising some self-control, I purchased just one, "Reader, I Married Him." I soaked up the delicious atmosphere -- wooden bookshelves, crown moldings, a fireplace, elegant chandeliers, and stacks of books piled invitingly on tables.

Photo via here

But eventually I got up the nerve to ask a young woman on the staff about "The Year in Books." After hearing the details I considered two things:

1) I was about to have a very big birthday and I wanted the next year to be a year of meaningful books.

 2) I was actually at Heywood Hill and wouldn't it be nice to be interviewed in person instead of doing it by email.

So, it was decided. This would be my birthday present to myself -- a year of enlightenment, Heywood Hill style! We talked for 30 minutes about my book interests and the deed was done. I would receive one book a month for the entire year chosen by the staff based on the information I had given them. Each book would come with a special book mark designed by Cressida Bell. And wrapped in the charming Heywood Hill style. I received my first book around June 20 and couldn't be happier. Here's what it all looked like.

The package

The book

The author, who also wrote "Corelli's Mandolin" 

The bookmark

All in all, it was an unforgettable experience and will surely be the birthday gift that keeps on giving!
I'll let you know how I like this book. So far it is very good!


  1. What an excellent thing to do!
    I have been to Heywood Hill (I bought, appropriately enough, 'The Bookshop at 10, Curzon Street - letters between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill' there), but I'd love to know what they'd send me if I were to sign up to The Year in Books.

  2. What a great idea and present! And a gorgeous bookstore too.

  3. I did not even know there were bookstores who offered such a service, but what a great idea for a birthdaypresent. I hope you enjoy all the book they pick out for you!

    KInd regards,

  4. Fantastic! What a wonderful idea. As always you inspire...

  5. What a wonderful post Sunday. I love the Cressida Bell bookmarks too!! What a brilliant shop. Must investigate this service further.

  6. The store and the service both look delightful! What a wonderful birthday gift.

  7. How exciting! I'd love to see what they'd choose for me, but I will live vicariously through your selections. I think it would be worth joining for the bookmark alone - they are gorgeous!

  8. What an amazing birthday gift to yourself. I do hope you will post each book you receive. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience.

  9. What a perfect gift to yourself! I'll look forward to hearing what they chose for you.

  10. This must be the most perfect gift ever!! I still consider Corelli's Mandolin an all-time favorite and can't wait to hear what you think of this book. Hope you post about your future literary arrivals :)

  11. A most perfect way to celebrate over and over again! I visited the shop while in London last year and was quietly in awe of its literary history. A Year in Books is a fabulous service and even more special for the very personal touch you received, Sunday. Keep posting your arrivals...I beg of you!

  12. How exciting! Maybe when I have my birthday in October, I could gift this to myself!