Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Howards End is on the landing by Susan Hill

Howards End is on the Landing is the book Susan Hill wrote whilst spending a year reading only books from her own (extremely copious) bookshelves, whilst also trying to compile a list of 40 books she couldn't do without if she had to forsake all others.

It's not just about those 40 books though. In fact, the process of selection is not really discussed until the final third if the book. This book is more of a journey through Susan Hill's life, how she feels about books and the reading process. It is more like a series of short essays on a variety of aspects of her reading life, including meetings with well known authors, gushing essays about why she loves particular authors and when she was first introduced to them, confessions of who she doesn't like, praise of the physical books themselves and other such subjects.

Structurally, the book follows her around her house as she moves from room to room, shelf to shelf, with each new shelf bringing out a series of reminiscences about her literary life. The chapters fall mainly into two camps, those about a specific author and those about the books and the reading process themselves. Although I enjoyed reading about her love of Thomas hardy and Virginia Woolf, and conversely her dislike of Jane Austen, my favourite parts were when she talked about books themselves. Enthusing about how books are shelved, where books are shelved and why they should be kept was lovely. Also the sections on children's books, reading slowly and writing in books was brilliant. And in case you're interested, in her opinion, books should be shelved where they fit, where they seem to belong, and never in alphabetical order!

I think the main appeal of this book for me was the obvious love of books and reading that permeated virtually every page. She made her books seem like such an important part of her life and her character. I just wanted to read the books she talked about (not all but most), and more than that, I wanted to visit her house and mooch around her bookshelves. I think I could quite easily spend a year reading from her bookshelves, reading her well loved books. The descriptions of the various rooms and shelves full of books were just wonderful.

Quotes

"But if the books I have read have helped to form me, then probably nobody else who has ever lived has read exactly the the same books, all the same books and only the same books as me. So just as my genes and the soul within me make me uniquely me, so I am the unique sum of the books I have read. I am my literary DNA."

"How can she not understand that if I let her do such a terrible thing as organise my books, I would never find what I was looking for again? Worse, there would never be any wonderful surprises, as I look for X and Y but find Z, which I thought I had lost years ago. Never the marvellous juxtaposition of a biography of Marilyn Monroe next to Charlie and the Chocolate factory."

3 comments:

anothercookiecrumbles said...

I've avoided this book for two reasons: 1. some really strong reviews in the blogging world; 2. I really didn't enjoy the only book I've read by her (The Beacon).

Thanks for the review - I'll try finding the book and flipping through a few pages, to see how I get on.

Andreea said...

Oh how I want this book now. It has been on my wishlist since I discovered it last year.

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