Texas student wins Heywood Hill's 'Library of a Lifetime' prize

Texas student wins Heywood Hill's 'Library of a Lifetime' prize

A student at the University of Texas has won Heywood Hill bookshop’s “Library of a Lifetime” prize.

Mariadela Villegas, a third year student at the University of Texas in Austin, won the generous prize after nominating Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as the book that has “meant the most” to her.

“The mere thought of a world where books are forbidden both fascinated and terrified me,” Villegas said in submission to the prize. “The idea of a band of nomads who are the only remaining links to great works of literature kept me up at night imagining what it would be like for them to know that if something were to happen, a literary classic would be lost forever.”

The student will now receive one newly-published and hand-picked hardback book per month for the rest of her life, delivered to her home by the Mayfair-based bookshop.

The idea for the prize emerged from Heywood Hill’s popular “A Year in Books” subscription service whereby senior booksellers determine a customer’s particular literary interests after a consultation and subscribers receive a new book each month. As their tastes or interests change, they can consult with Heywood Hill staff to evolve their subscription year-to-year.

Altogether 50,000 people from over 100 countries applied to win a chance to receive the haul.  

Of her win, Villegas said: “I didn't think in a million years that I would be so lucky to win. Books have always provided a refuge and comfort for me in difficult times. I'm the person who wants to go to a bookshop when she's sad or angry, because the mere presence of books provides relief. This amazing gift has completely changed my life and I will be forever grateful to Heywood Hill for having chosen my entry.”

Heywood Hill also selected Arthur Au, from Hong Kong, for its second place prize of a one-year subscription to “A Year in Books”, providing 12 new hardback books per month for a year, and Al Stewart from Reading, United Kingdom, for the third prize, which includes a hardback book every other month for a year. They submitted Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres, respectively.

Tom Nind, manager of the 80-year-old bookshop, said: “We think of Heywood Hill as the biggest little book shop in the world. This raffle is the proof in the pudding. Readers all over the world responded to our call. We are looking forward introducing our winners to new authors and books.”

He added: “To create such a unique personal relationship is the delight of what we do. In fact, among our oldest and dearest customers is Patricia Lovejoy from Greenwich, Connecticut, to whom we’ve been sending books every month by mail since the early 1970s.”

With the competition now over, Heywood Hill plans to use the submissions to create a crowd-sourced list for anyone looking to create a modern library covering the last 80 years of English-language literature and non-fiction.

Among the books to receive the highest number of submissions are 1984 by George Orwell, Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, The Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Watership Down by Richard Adams, among many others.