‘Dear Heywood, I hear Mollie is leaving at the end of next week, in which case so am I. Yours ever, Nancy.’ So wrote my ever-direct aunt, Nancy Mitford, to her employer Heywood Hill, the founder of the famous Mayfair bookshop, on 17 May 1944. Whether or not Nancy’s threat had some effect, she continued to work at the shop for another year. Here I should declare a strong interest in the fate of independent bookshops. I am the proud owner of a modest chunk of Heywood Hill, which is currently celebrating its 75th year. Not a bad milestone for any business. But can bookshops really survive in a retail world overgrown by Amazon? (Perhaps Leylandii would be a more accurate name.)Long before the internet or the Kindle, or the financial crisis, bookselling was not exactly easy.