“Make sure you visit Hatchards,” a friend advised upon hearing that I had an impending trip to London scheduled. “Wonderful bookstore. Adjacent to Fortnum’s. They have a subscription service—you pick a topic and once a month they’ll hand-select a book and mail it to you.” It’s no secret I love books. If I have spoken with you in the last six months, I probably asked you if you’re on Goodreads; and if you told me that you are not, I probably demanded that you download the app immediately and list what books you’ve read in 2016. I really, really love books. So when I heard there was a bookstore in central London which offers a monthly subscription tailored to the bibliophile’s individual interests, passions, and reading preferences, I made it my first stop after dropping off my bags at the hotel.
Hatchards is London’s oldest bookshop, established in 1797 and located for more than two centuries in the same building on one of the finest and most famous streets in the world, Piccadilly. The place oozes venerability and respectability, exactly what you would want from a British bookseller who is going to curate your perfect literary year. Stepping inside, you are drawn into a labyrinth of sections and sub-sections of row upon row of books. In one room, you’ll find British history categorized by era, royal house, and political office. Turn around and you’ll notice an entire bookshelf devoted to tomes praising the Empire and chronicling the histories of those countries who were once ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. Throughout the store, tables are piled high with fiction titles recommended by Hatchards employees who use an arcane selection process understood by few but extolled by all.
After surveying the shelves, I headed to the front desk to express my interest in the subscription service. “Excellent,” a painfully skinny and bespectacled young man said, the spitting image of a bibliophile if there ever was one. He handed me a brochure and asked me to review it prior to my consultation. “We originally intended to only offer the subscription service around the holidays, but it has been so popular that we are now offering it year-round. In fact, we have a couple of employees who spend the majority of their afternoons simply curating our members’ subscriptions.” Getting paid to carefully ponder which book should be sent to a particular person who remains faceless and anonymous save for a list of their reading preferences—amazing.
Hatchards offers the following subscriptions: non-fiction, fiction, children’s, travel, artist’s, and mixed. The artist’s subscription, catering to those who appreciate “life’s finest treasures, whether a love of Pre-Raphaelite oils or postmodern installations,” speaks to the thoroughness of the service. I settled on non-fiction, specifying my penchant for travel odysseys (“Like Shackleton?” he asked. “Exactly,” I responded.) and world history. “We should have enough to work with here,” the bookseller reassured me before scurrying off to find a book on India that he had read the prior month and thought was absolutely marvelous. At check-out, he gave me a letter of introduction detailing the subscription, a Hatchards bookmark, and the first of my twelve books, A Strange Kind of Paradise: India Through Foreign Eyes, gift-wrapped and bound by a dark green ribbon. Simple, beautiful, and indulgent—the perfect British expression of erudition.
The yearly subscription service varies in price. Non-fiction hardback titles will cost you £350 while the non-fiction paperback service amounts to £175. Fiction is more of a bargain at £275 for hardback and £150 for paperback. For international shipping, Hatchards charges £25. Visit the Hatchards website for a complete listing of subscription prices.