At 10 Curzon Street in Mayfair, London, you will find Heywood Hill – our bookshop of the month for May. The bookshop boasts that it is ‘a literary landmark in its own right’ and it is easy to see why. The shop has been running since 1936 when it was opened by Heywood Hill and his wife Anne Gathorne-Hardy, selling old, new and antiquarian books with titles focused on literature, history, biography and travel – a tradition that carries on to this day. We recently spoke to Venetia, head of new books, about the bespoke services the shop offers its customers and new titles for this spring.
You offer a whole array of unique services to your customers including providing ‘A Year in Books’ and ‘Library Building’. Do you feel it is important to offer additional services that traditional bookshops may not offer?
I think most bookshops recognise the importance of going the extra mile for their customers. We have been offering a bespoke service since we first opened in 1936 and have been tailoring it ever since. Our mixture of new and rare books means that we are able to draw on the whole ‘history’ of the printed word and our customers appreciate that. Our ‘Year in Books’ uses that knowledge and means that we can match books to people with that added element of surprise.
Spring brings with it many new and exciting titles, what are three of your personal favourites?
Undoubtedly ‘A Curious Friendship’ by Anna Thomasson which looks at the close ties forged between Edith Olivier (the writer) and Rex Whistler (the artist and illustrator) and their circle of friends. It draws on her hugely evocative letters and journals. I am also enjoying the correspondence between Bernard Berenson and Kenneth Clark – those titans of the art world. The letters are at once illuminating, gossipy and affectionate. Thirdly, ‘Captain of Dragoons’ the seventh Carey novel by Ronald Welch. Originally published in the 50’s it is a powerfully written adventure set at the time of the Battle of Blenheim. Ostensibly for children its historical accuracy and taut writing makes it a novel for old and young alike.
One of your services includes building private libraries. What does your own personal library look like?
With four children, all voracious readers, we ran out of shelf space some time ago. It is not so much a library (wish that it were) but myriad collections reflecting our advancing years and changing tastes. The important thing is that there are books everywhere and on all manner of subjects so that one can never complain of being bored.
Why do you think the bookshop experience remains so important to readers and book lovers?
There is a misconception (possibly amongst non-readers) that reading is a solitary pursuit. The popularity of reading groups belies this as does the social nature of the bookshop. What better place to discuss the merits (and demerits) of a title than the place where it was bought? Our customers have as much influence over what we stock as we do and are as vocal about their likes (and dislikes) as we are. Heaven.