Thursday, November 8, 2012

Howards End is on the Landing- Susan Hill


Pages: 236
Published: 2009 by Profile Books
Genre: Non/Fiction - Books
Format: Hardback
Acquired: My own collection
Date Finished: November 9th 2012

This is a year of reading from home, by one of Britain's most distinguished authors. Early one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on her shelves, Susan Hill encountered dozens of others that she had never read, or forgotten she owned, or wanted to read for a second time. The discovery inspired her to embark on a year-long voyage through her books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know her own collection again. A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, Hill's eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in her home, neglected for years. Howards End is on the Landing charts the journey of one of the nation's most accomplished authors as she revisits the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.


 Anyone who knows me, and for those who don’t but soon will learn, I love books about books. There is something so alluring, magical and delicious about opening a book and delving into the world of reading where I as an avid reader am able to hear and see, smell and touch books through my mind and through the minds of other book lovers. While reading is a tactile thing, reading about books feeds my imagination like fertilizer to a growing rose bush. [And who doesn’t love to stop and smell the roses?]

So it is truly no surprise that when I was browsing around a bookshop late year and came upon the exquisite and tempting book Howard’s End is on the Landing. I had to pick it up and take a squizzy. From the synopsis on the inside front flap Susan Hill spoke about embarking on a yearlong journey into the homes and depths of her book shelves; through re-reading, de-cluttering and exploring the books that had been gathering dust on her shelves but had never been read. To a collector and a life time book lover this had be jumping up and down doing  a happy dance and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Ah, the perfect book.

Fast track to about a year later and I am standing at my bookshelf looking at all the non-fiction books that I own. There aren’t many, maybe 30-40 at the most outside my insane collection of fiction books, and it’s not that I don’t love non-fiction either. But I sat down after looking at my collection for the hundredth time since I’d moved into this house and I thought to myself. God I would love to pull that one down for my shelf. What was I waiting for? Did I need a sign or a divine message urging me to take it from the pile or permission to read something – to indulge a little? No more than half an hour later I was watching one of my favourite Youtuber’s Debra make a book haul video, and in it – lo and behold she had purchased Howard’s End is on the Landing. That was the sign- that was all I needed to see before I scooped it up, took the dust jacket off and settled down – eager to begin the journey with Susan Hill.

When I began reading this I had expectations of what I thought the book was going to be about. I think everyone does, regardless of what they say. But what I expected and what I actually got from the book could not be any more different. However the experience from reading this book and sheer surprise of what I found within its pages more than made up for the crushing realization that this wasn’t one of those books where you are going to say – ah yes I know that book, or that person or I totally agree with what you are saying. Nor is it a deep look inside her library, her life as an author and as a reader. It’s so much more than both of those things, and although it does dally a little into the concepts I was expecting I think it enriched my reading experience by not being predictable and totally taking me outside my comfort zone.

I am a child from a different Era, sure I was brought up with Beatrix Potter and Enid Blyton, but when you get to talking about Charles Dickens and Iris Murdoch, not to mention Ian Fleming and Virginia wolf I am completely lost. I have not really read too many classics that I can recall and until my early teenage years had not read anything that could be classed as great old literature. So when I began reading and getting involved in the story I was taken for a little ride, one that I had not packed for when Susan Hill now I think in her sixties, began talking about the authors she had met, ones that had influenced her in the past and the books she has read as a child, a teenager and as an adult that I had either no clue existed or never really given a shit about in the first place. You would think it would make for dull reading.

 Given any other book and I would have thrown it away despite the pretty cover, but that is the brilliant and blessed thing about this book. No matter how out of my element I was, how dry the content could be at times and how stupid I felt for not even hearing about [what sounded like some astounding pieces of literature] Susan Hill still managed to have be hooked on her story, page after page into all hours of the night and just loving every second of it. And one of the biggest deciding factors of why I could not throw this book away and will treasure it forever is doors it opened up inside my head and for my reading life ahead of me.

There were so many lists that I made. So many ideas were questions and challenges stirred.  The question – could I do this? Could I spend a year not buying books and delving into my ever growing collection? Could I spend a year re-reading some of my favourite books and authors – immersing myself in the worlds that shaped me as a person and as a reader without feeling guilty that I was missing out on so many wonderful books that were yet to be published, were already on my wish list or merely already on my shelf? The answers to those questions are still percolating, but I imagine very soon the fruition of my thoughts will reveal itself and out of it will come a new journey into my own reading.

Not only though was I amazed, and excited to learn about these beautiful people and their passion for the word and for books, but Susan’s sharp insight into the world of reading from the effects of the internet and its stunting our reading, to the competitive nature of book buying and blogging and how we devour books [better to have read twenty a week than one or two] and don’t savour them slowly like we used to back when books where harder to get, or when it was acceptable to spend a great deal of time reading one. It was this deeper look into the style of reading that really had me thinking about the way that I read and it offered me some home truths that maybe I was denying myself a little. Like the joys of re-reading a book, or taking my time.

Howard’s end is on the landing is not going to be for everyone. I do think for my generation might find it to be a dull book and a hard one to read through unless you’re highly interested in taking a stroll down memory lane for the last century or so in books and authors. However if you are one who is open to that experience, then I think there is so much to be gained from taking the time to read the book and books like it from time to time in your life. It will offer you the chance to look inside a different aspect of the reading world you might live in and who knows, you might even find a new author or book to fall in love with.

Overall it was a mixed experience reading this book, but I can strongly say that this is one of the books that I can say had a strong impact on my life. For that I am recommending it to all those of you out there who love books about books and to those who would like to get a little insight into Susan Hill’s world. I will be searching out for some of her other works, but in the meantime please feel free to let me know your thoughts on the book if you have read it and if you intend to get it- fantastic.

I am giving this one:
Piles of musty old books.


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