Nicky Dunne has created the book collections onboard Viking ships since 2007. Credit: Viking

Books on board: Nicky Dunne talks about filling Viking libraries with fitting books

Author: Vicky Mayer

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Nicky Dunne, chairman of leading independent booksellers Heywood Hill on how he and his team create the wonderful libraries on board Viking ships.

Guests on all Viking ships can enjoy a selection of carefully curated books in the library. The line works with leading independent booksellers Heywood Hill to curate an exclusive selection of books to enhance Viking guests’ experience through exploration, cultural immersion, and enrichment, both on board and off.

Every Viking vessel sails with a diverse collection of books on board, and each title has been carefully hand-selected to pique the curiosity of their guests.

Here, Nicky Dunne, Chairman of Heywood Hill, gives us an insight into how the books are chosen.

Could you tell us a bit more about Heywood Hill?

Heywood Hill is a small, independent bookshop in London, which was established in 1936 by a man called George Heywood Hill.

He was a passionate bookseller who employed the young Nancy Mitford and together they really put the shop on the map.

Today, the emphasis in our shop remains a devotion to good writing.

Our stock is a mix of old, new, and antiquarian books on literature, history, architecture, biographies, and travel as well as children's titles.

Our real focus is getting to know our customers really well.

Viking's onboard Library was curated by Heywood Hill, who dedicated hundreds of hours to understanding passengers. Credit: Viking

You are well known for your subscription service – how does this work?

The whole ethos of our business is about personalisation. A Year in Books is the most personalised book subscription service in the world and makes the perfect gift for bookworms everywhere.

Our dedicated team of bibliophiles read over 500 books a year and are experts at helping readers find the books that are just right for them.

It begins with a welcome letter that includes an invitation to tell us what sort of books you would like to receive. You can do this online, in person or over the phone. Your personal bookseller will choose books especially to suit your own individual tastes, and send them to your door.

Throughout the year, you will build up a collection of brilliant books you might not otherwise have found, and your reading life will be enriched.

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What do you need to consider when curating a library for a Viking ship?

We have been lucky enough to spend time onboard getting to know Viking guests and we have used these insights to assemble libraries that will appeal to them.

Viking guests are an incredibly eclectic and interesting group of people. A group of people who travel the world and have a very broad outlook. They are curious and inquisitive.

They want to be stimulated intellectually and they want to explore in a meaningful way.

We always aim for there to be a mix of novels, novellas, short stories, and diaries on the shelves alongside lots of visually interesting books from art books to photography.

When a new Viking ship is launched which requires a new library – what is the process for your team?

It involves a lot of research, mainly desk research. We go to libraries; we talk to publishers, and we spend considerable time looking at physical books.

We create a list of what we want to see on the ship which is often linked to the destinations the new ship is going to sail in and then we go and find the books.

This is where my team’s real expertise kicks in – identifying the right books, in the right condition, in the right edition and bringing them all together.

There is nothing more mouth-wateringly enticing than a wall of well-chosen books on a particular subject or a strong theme.

Are the libraries on the Viking ships ordered in any way?

Yes – different areas of each ship explore different subjects. For example, on the Viking ocean ships, guests in the Living Room will find an assortment of contemporary fiction, classic literature and non-fiction titles.

Those in the Explorers’ Lounge will discover books about Arctic exploration – a nod to Viking’s Norwegian heritage.

On Viking Orion and Viking Jupiter, where the ships each have an Explorers Dome (a planetarium) we have ensured there are books detailing the history of space travel and the cosmos.

Viking Forsetti's library carries approximately 80 books. Credit: Viking

Do you provide reading lists for Viking guests?

Yes – we work with Viking to create interesting recommended reading lists tailored to the specific itinerary their guests are sailing on.

The point of the curated lists is to encourage the guests to go somewhere in their mind before they go themselves.

If you’ve read a little about the place you are going to and the history of it, then it is such a richer experience when you are there.

For example, when Viking launched their new Nile ship, Viking Osiris, the recommended reading list included Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, one of the best travel mystery novels of all time, Richard Wilkinson’s Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt which traces the development of temples throughout history, and Michael Haag’s Luxor Illustrated which gives a historical overview of Luxor.

The Viking partnership is quite unique for Heywood Hill – have you enjoyed this different challenge?

Yes, the Hagen family (which own and run Viking) are incredibly passionate about books, and they really understand the value of reading, so it is a special partnership for us.

Viking is all about exploration and a library is all about personal exploration so that is what we aim to convey on the Viking vessels. The team love the challenge of curating a library for a new ship.

It is wonderful to think that the books that we have spent hours choosing to be onboard Viking vessels are sailing far and wide and giving pleasure to people all over the world as they travel and explore. That really gives us all a thrill and we hope that the books we have chosen for them will enhance their stay onboard. It is our passion to introduce people to great books.

To find out more about Heywood Hill, Nicky Dunne will be interviewed by Anne Diamond on Viking.TV at 7pm on December 29, 2022. A Year in Books subscription starts from £235 and is the perfect gift for all book lovers.

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About Vicky Mayer

Vicky began her career working on young women’s magazines before moving on to TV and entertainment titles. Her passion, though, has always been travel, so as Editor of World of Cruising, she combines her love of magazines with the chance to shout about cruise holidays around the world.