Wednesday, January 12, 2011

G. Heywood Hill: Old, New, and Bespoke Books


If it is possible to be in love with a book shop, then I am quite enamored with G. Heywood Hill Booksellers.

I got an excited call from my husband one morning not long after moving to Shepherd Market in Mayfair, telling me about a bookstore on Curzon Street.

"That's nice," I said, not quite understanding what had made him excited enough to set aside his crazed work schedule to call and tell me about it.

So I stopped by later in the week while out for a jog, and might have imposed my sweaty self on the poor shop for over two hours.  I understood.

The shop was easy to miss, as its awning-sign is rarely drawn.  I had to look carefully at the book display in the picture window to discover that it was, in fact, a book shop.

Inside the smell of new and old books gripped me pleasantly.  The quarters were quite small.  Enough that I expected only a solitary employee to be on hand to help me navigate the shop.  Not so.  I discovered no fewer than five employees, all busy around desks or reading some tome from those stacked high around them.  There may have been one other customer carefully teetering between tables of well-apportioned cookery, travel, used, and antiquarian books.  Hardly enough to keep all of them busy, I mused.

But I was wrong.  The manager, Nicholas, to whom I was introduced, lead me through the antiquarian section which doubled as his basement office, explaining that, as the last bespoke bookstore in England, they could find me a Jane Austen for 7, 70, or 7,000 pounds sterling.

While I was there, the phone rang fairly consistently.  I meandered into the largest collection in the shop, the children's section, where I met a bright-lipped Nancy.  She made various recommendations on her favorites and which ages would like which books.  Impressive, I must say.  Seems she had read everything, even in the used children's section.

I soon learned the wide reputation of the shop, and came to appreciate all of its employees and services.  It seemed each Oxford don I mentioned the shop to knew of it, and ordered books from it on a regular basis.  I also learned that I could purchase any academic book from them, and cheaper than I could find them online, somehow with no delivery charge.  My books are either delivered wrapped in brown paper through my door slit (at no extra charge) or I am rung up to be told my book is in.  

I must say that my quality of life has improved considerably since being introduced to G. Heywood Hill. I have benefited from suggestions on new moleskin styles, gift ideas, and learned that I love old Swedish interior decorating, not to mentioned saved hundreds of pounds on academic books and shipping fees.  Ben in the front room now greets me by name as I cross the shop's threshold, Nicholas knows just how to tempt me, and Nancy, always bright-lipped, has a smile each time I pass her on the street.  I have, however, yet to meet the proprietor, the Duke of Devonshire...

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