Not long prior to Nancy Mitford published “ The Pursuit of Love” (” Life is often sad and typically dull, but there are currants in the cake, and here is among them”), she worked in a bookshop called Heywood Hill, in the Mayfair neighborhood of London. Her good friends– Evelyn Waugh and Patrick Leigh Fermor, to name a few– would come over and talk with her as she offered books. “I have just ever check out one book in my life, which is White Fang It’s so frightfully good I have actually never bothered to read another,” she once composed, describing among her character’s literary tastes. Later, in an essay, she said, “Many people like reading about what they already know– there is even a public for the other day’s weather condition.”
A few days ago, Nicky Dunne, Heywood’s director and executive chairman, was standing outside the shop, near a plaque bearing Mitford’s name and the dates she worked there: 1942-1945 Dunne has cluttered Hugh Grant hair, and was worn an aqua blazer and a matching knit tie. “I like to think she was sort of honing her writing skills while working in the shop,” he said, of Mitford. He acknowledged another plaque, below Mitford’s, declaring Heywood the official booksellers to the Queen. “I feel like we become part of London’s literary ecology, in a little method. Someone stated that the place has plenty of ghosts, literary ones.”
Inside, down a narrow flight of stairs, past the shop floor and a rare-books space, which includes such items as Charles Dickens’s hip flask, are the confined book-lined workplaces of Heywood’s subscription service, A Year in Books, a kind of bacon-of-the-month club for readers. Each year, the 5 members of the subscription group read some six hundred books; each month, they send each customer a book based on their choices (of the “the other day’s weather condition” variety, or otherwise). Added to the wall was a map of the world dotted with pins revealing where the books are sent out: the U.K., the U.S., Australia, Singapore.
Each subscription begins with a reading assessment. “Some people are really ready and go, ‘I like this and this and this,’ ” Van de Velde stated. “Others need a bit more time to get in the groove.” The relationship can rapidly turn individual. “I talk to some of mine most likely month-to-month by email,” Franzén said. Keegan picked up a packet from her desk. “One came to see me today, and he brought me this seaweed,” she said. “We’re not offering magic tablets,” Franzén added, “but when you get it right for someone it does feel like magic.”
What would they send out to a reader recently heartbroken? “Perhaps David Nicholls’s ‘ Sugary Food Sorrow‘?” Franzén recommended. Or “ The Pisces,” by Melissa Broder, Keegan added. How about a female considering motherhood? “ Sight,” by Jessie Greengrass, or “ Motherhood,” by Sheila Heti. Someone changing professions? “ The Outrun,” by Amy Liptrot, or “even ‘ Bleaker House,’ ” by Nell Stevens. Somebody lonesome? “ The Lonely City,” by Olivia Laing. “It likewise makes me think about Ottessa Moshfegh’s ‘ My Year of Rest and Relaxation,’ however that’s really leaning into the isolation,” Keegan said.
Camille Aveni, an executive assistant who lives in Oak Ridge, New Jersey, got a subscription as a birthday gift. “Each time that box appears with that stunning blue ribbon which month-to-month bookmark, I seem like Anne Bancroft,” in the film “84 Charing Cross Roadway,” she said. Recently, Aveni, whose tastes skew towards generational books, got a biography of the war reporter Marie Colvin. “If you had asked me, I would have stated no, yet what a fantastic book,” she stated. Of her bookseller, she added, “I feel like she knows what I need before I do.”
Ashley Newton, an executive at Universal Music Group, remembered the first time he passed Heywood. “It looked like someone had actually pressed the Pause button in 1930,” he stated. The subscription has actually turned him on to Kate Atkinson, Anthony Quinn, and Mick Herron.
Mariadela Villegas, a law trainee, was on Instagram when she saw an advertisement for a lifetime of books from Heywood. Considering that then, she has received books on American diplomacy, a murdered socialite, and a bio of Tsar Nicholas II.
Which book did she choose for the contest? ♦