When I wrote about Heywood Hill, the bookshop in Mayfair that’s been on Curzon Street since 1936, I said a lot about how brilliantly the shop manages to incorporate an awareness of history into what is now a thoroughly modern and up-to-date shop.
But I forgot to mention the most interesting way they do this: the Heywood Hill One Hundred. For this project, Heywood Hill turned to their customers. Because of the shop’s fame and prestige, that group includes a lot of very big players in British public life, from authors and poets to actors, activists and politicians. The shop asked customers to nominate what they consider to be exemplary books published in English since the shop opened in 1936, in order to compile ‘a ready-made library of powerful contemporary books chosen by real readers among our often well-known customers.’
And now, the selection is on display at the shop. Each book is accompanied by a small note, indicating what it is, when it was published, who nominated it and sometimes a brief comment from the reader about why he or she thought it was so excellent. The selection is eclectic, of course, since it reflects the tastes and passions of many different Londoners, but all of the books are excellent. The collection includes fiction, history, philosophy, biography and other genres, so everyone should be able to find something they love.
So if you ever wanted to know what Stephen Fry, Lord McAlpine or Michael Gove are reading (and think you should be too) here’s your chance! As it turns out, Education Secretary Michael Gove selected Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchen’s memoir. This is such a strange piece of news that I still don’t know what to make of it. But regardless, it’s an excellent selection of important and interesting works, so if you’re looking for a good book for the summer to accompany you on those days of picnicking in the park, this is the place to start.