I don’t think that I have seen a book so written about on so many blogs in the space of a week or two as I have with Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. This should be, if everyone who goes and reads book blogs then goes out and buys it, a huge hit and rightly so. As soon as I saw it and read about the premise I knew it would be a book that I simply HAD to read. Mind you as a fan of the works of Susan Hill I would have bought it regardless (knowing she would divulge her Top 40 books and give me more “reading musts” pushed me over the edge – don’t tell my bank manager) of what was inside it, the fact it’s a book about books would only go and make me want it even more. Then there is the wonderful title, and then there is the cover! Ok Simon get on with it…
When one day Susan Hill was searching for a book she knew she owned and wanted to read she realised that she couldn’t find it and instead found lots of books that she owned but hadn’t read. From this spawned the book Howards End is on the landing. After that small event Susan Hill decided that for one year she would give up buying any new books and simply read the books that she already owned in her house and what a collection that turns out to be. She also gave up blogging and limited her time on the internet in order to be further away from distraction. The only clause to was the arrival of books for reviewing and ones for research purposes.
However the journey wasn’t just finding books she hadn’t read and wondering why, it also took her through all the books she had read and some of the memories those books brought back and so we also get in a way Susan Hill’s literary memoirs. Whilst she is talking about some of the great reads and authors through her life we are occasionally given snippets of how her life has changed as her career has progressed and some of the famous authors that she has met and interacted with, if not face to face through letters etc, so far. It’s an insightful and very interesting look into all things literary be they behind closed literary doors or just on the shelves in her Small Dark Den.
What the book also did for me was make me think a lot. I didn’t whizz through the book like I thought I would, it actually made my head buzz with so many rich book thoughts I had to put it down on several occasions and digest everything that I had just read. How could Susan have not read 1984, how could she not love Jane Austen (though I myself have had trouble – isn’t it the law of reading to love Jane?), how can you dip in and out of multiple books? How could I have not read Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Jane Howard or Elizabeth Bowen? It frustrated me I didn’t have Susan sat opposite me so I could ask her lots of questions and debate all the answers over some tea and cakes for a few hours. Oh to dream!
So where is the negative? There isn’t really any… two sections that didn’t agree with me so much were the parts on Sebald and poetry, which I read of course, though not being a fan of either subject they didn’t set me alight like the rest of the book did. I loved hearing about Iris Murdoch though didn’t agree with the comment that Murdoch has currently been forgotten, I have read a few of her books in the last few years and I know of others of my generation (am not being ageist) that have. However disagreeing is different from disliking.
In fact there were a few things that I disagreed with Susan on such as girls reading more than boys, not this boy they don’t and not likely another Simon I can think of… maybe is it a Simon thing, ha? That statement doesn’t mean we read more than any girl out there but we both read fairly prolifically. I also cannot bare the idea of writing in a book, getting one signed for myself or my Gran maybe, but writing in one is like spine cracking and page corner turning (dog earring?), and makes me wince at the sacrilege. This isn’t negative though the fact that I didn’t agree with Susan (we are now on first name terms in my head because of this book just so you know) actually what it showed was that I was thinking and not falling under the illusion some people may have, that this is some sort of guide on how to read or what to read. It’s not. It’s a book by a prolific and, in my opinion, wonderful author… that doesn’t mean because I love all her books I will love all her views.
Indeed a comment the delightful Claire of Paperback Reader left yesterday highlights this exact thing. She said when thinking that this would be one of my top books of the year, which it is, “then you are probably not going to like my blog post” but why not? I like Claire’s blog, and having met her in person at book group I like her too, but we aren’t always going to agree on certain books after all that would be be a bit dull wouldn’t it?
If people have a different opinion that’s great, have you noticed book groups flounder when everyone feels the same way about a book? As long as people can back up with the whys behind them not liking a book rather than just ‘I hated it’ then I am happy to debate, thats what comes with blogging. The debate makes it more interesting and I had this, only one way, between myself and this book. In fact I used Susan’s opinions whether I agreed with them or not to think about mine, so a thought provoking read too.
This is this just the sort of debate that we have on blogs in fact you will see from the picture below that I made many, many notes (there are two more pages I didn’t get a snap of). In fact maybe this is why the blogosphere is so full of chatter about this book, in a way its like a collection of exceptionally well written blog posts (I am not sure if Susan would approve of that or not – though am glad her blog is back) that are already inspiring some posts and hopefully some debates for the future on this blog.
Now that I have read it I haven’t put it on my shelves instead its sat on my bedside table as I think this is a book that I may ‘dip in and out of’ it (something until this book would have seemed wrong but am giving it a go – am also taking more of Susan’s advice as you will see in tomorrow’s post) in the future weeks and months. I think it’s a book that as my reading life goes on and changes, so will my thought to it and relation ship with it. This book certainly won’t be going on my shelves and being lost and forgotten. I only have one question left… just what book was Susan Hill originally looking for?