Howards End is on the Landing – Susan Hill

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.

Notes on HEiotL

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?



Filed under Books About Books, Books of 2009, Profile Books, Review, Susan Hill

34 responses to “Howards End is on the Landing – Susan Hill

  1. Interesting review. I think the problem with books like this is that we all have a different taste in books and so I don’t like taking book recommendations from someone I know nothing about – as you say it would be great to have tea and cakes with her, so we could ask her questions about it.

    • Ithink the fact that we all have such differing tastes is why these books are so interesting, you might just find a book you didnt think you would like then drawing you to it. That’s what iftn happens when I am reading book blogs too.

      Oh I would be the happiest man if I could have afternoon tea with Susan Hill!

      • You’d be welcome ! There’s generally a cake. Thank you for the interesting review. I don`t read many blogs but Profile are sending me links this time. Amusingly, on a blog I read yesterday – not a book blog, I was looking for something else – I saw a comment. ‘I see SH published a memoir recently but no one has mentioned it in the blogosphere and it has sunk without trace.’ I wonder where they look ?
        I`m delighted it has been talked/argued about, liked/disliked… and the whole point is to send people back not to my books but to their own.

      • Thank you so much for commenting Susan I am thrilled. I think what I found interesting is how it not only made me look at my shelves (tomorrow I will be discussing a bookshelf breakdown I had which HEiotL sort of started ha) but also my reading habits.

        Oh cake and tea… it’s a must!

  2. What a wonderful review, Simon, and I love the idea of our voracious reading being a Simon thing! Maybe there is something in the name… though doesn’t it mean ‘one who listens’ (and ‘snub-nosed…’)? Listening was the reading of its day, I suppose.

    Jackie – what I loved about this book was that it wasn’t simply a book of recommendations, it explored huge amounts of literature and concepts about reading, in an utterly non-pretentious way. It makes you fall in love with your own books all over again.

    • I think its definately in the name ha! I thoroughly enjoyed this book and even enjoyed getting cross at some parts, well not cross but a little vexed in the nicest possible way.

  3. Well, I did back up why I hated it! This book is probably not going to be lost in my collection either but sold on … yes, I hate it so much that even that beautiful cover and quirky title aren’t receiving shelf space.

    As I commented yesterday, I was concerned that if anybody who had really loved this book (like Simon T) read my review then my negativity towards it may dampen their enthusiasm (not change their mind but take the shine off) and I hate when that happens. However, I review everything I read (within reason) and don’t compromise my opinions hence my reviews. Anyway, I think I made it clear why I didn’t like it.

    I forgot about the gross generalisations that could be construed as sexist: no, girls do not read more than boys, boys do not like to make lists more than girls, and women do not write more books than men.

    The Jane Austen thing flummoxed me too but to each their own.

    A positive from the book is that Iris Murdoch has been bumped up my TBR lisr; I’ve always meant to read her but haven’t and Naomi/Bloomsbury Bell had already convinced me to read her just a few days ago and now I am even more determined. It also intensified my wish to read more Virginia Woolf soon (I’ve read just over half of her books).

    • You did indeed and it’s reviews like that which I may not agree with but back up what they think that I admire, not sure about the book snob comment as people sometimes just know they won’t like a type of book.

      For example I hate books about submarines or the navy, even Daphne Du Maurier hasn’t convinced me with a short story or two but thats not snobish I just know what I like and what I dont… though I am always keen to be proven wrong on books, like sci-fi… I just don’t think I would like it but I would definately try it and will be very soon.

      • The book snob part was by far my most contentious comment but I stand by it. I think we all have inherent book snobbish tendencies (and, hey, I love Rachel who has that as a her blog title) but we don’t simply discount entire genres and countries rich with literature. Notice I didn’t apply it to her not liking Jane Austen as that’s personal preference (just like it is for you and submarines or navy and me for gardening) but when you say that you don’t get on with fantasy, historical fiction, Canadian literature, Australian literature and discount so many wonderful novels that you could potentially like then that’s discriminatory.

        I can understand people saying that they don’t like graphic novels as that’s a form but saying that you don’t like historical or fantasy novels is ridiculous. It is also contradictory as she waxed lyrical about Harry Potter. Tolstoy, Hugo, Zola and many others all wrote historical novels but Susan Hill was very much using a stereotypical view of historical novels as bodice-rippers just as she was likening all fantasy novels to the social-satire of Pratchett.

        Anyway, I’m off my soap-box now as we won’t agree.

      • P.S. The book that she was originally looking for was Howards End – it was on the landing!

  4. Interesting review Simon; I fell slightly more towards Claire’s view in that it was disappointing.

    Like Simon T I did like the way that it highlighted so many vast swathes of literature.

    And I did like the fact that it has prompted me to do some rereading; I had started to feel that I would never reread any of my books because I had so many TBR, but at the same time I have remembered that I like to revisit old friends.

    I think girls DO in general read more than boys, although I know very many girls who barely read at all. I think boys often lose interest because they aren’t given appropriate reading material at school. I am very pleased that I have got my boyfriend reading a LOT more – before he lived with me he read one or two books a year, now he reads that a MONTH 😀

    • I am married to someone who didnt read and you are so right, if children dont grasp it or are given dull books at school (and this nearly happened to me) then why would they read after school.

      I am most jealous of everyone who read To Kill A Mockingbird at school as it took me years to discover that gem!

  5. Book Psmith

    I was a greedy little reader and did whizz right through, so I am off on a reread I loved it so much.

  6. I have never heard of the book but now I’m resolved to go read it. Books about books and literary criticism have always had a special place in me. It seems to me what goes on in the book, all the exchanges about literature, is like the blogsphere now. As to the difference between girls and boys, I think boys are more active and they spend more time playing sports, fiddling with the gadgets and focus less on words.

    • This book is indeed in some ways very blog like, which after her superb blog (now defunct but has been reborn) is no bad thing and has fuelled me with blog posts for weeks to come.

  7. The great thing about blogs is that I can read your review and appreciate your enthusiasm for this book, and then I can go look at Claire’s review and appreciate her criticisms of it. I can then make up my mind as to whether the book is for me. However, and this is where I ‘fess up and explain my prejudices. I’m not a fan of Susan Hill because several years ago she wrote something slagging off bloggers. This post by The Age of Uncertainty (a wonderful blog, by the way) sums it all up very nicely and with a lot of humour.

    You might also be interested in an interview she did on Vulpes Libris (another wonderful blog, if you don’t already read it) last year, in which she explains a bit about her views on blogs and negative reviewing. The full interview is here:

    Sorry for leaving such a long comment!

    • Kim, I read the interview last night after you linked to it on my post but thanks to for the link to The Age of Uncertainty post; I feel as if my eyes are a little wider now.

    • I agree with you 100% some people enthuse a book and others will not but as the reader of a blog I listen but like to make my own mind up. Sometimes if someone loathes a book it can make me want to read it more hahahaha, is that weird?

      Thanks for the links I shall look at those shortly!

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  9. This book reminds me of another one that I read last year: The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by a local (San Francisco) writer Louis Buzbee. Interwoven with personal anecdotes and musings of bookstores, he gives us an anthology of the book business. I thought you might be interested in reading it.

  10. If I`m in London with a tea-time to spare I`ll let you know… if you are allowed out of course !

    • Why wouldn’t I be allowed out? Ha, thats made me laugh, I am worried I am giving people visions of me being chained to a bookshelf. If you are ever free in London with a tea-time to spare I would be delighted.

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  12. I’ve enjoyed several novels by Susan Hill and her blog was the first I ever looked up and followed. I must have this book.
    Thank you for reviewing it. How nice that she commented on your blog, I can’t imagine where she finds the time.

    • I cant either, I am still hoping that she will find time to meet me for that tea and cakes and a natter in 2010 who knows it could happen, wouldnt that be amazing, am a bit of a fan though so could go to pieces. Thanks for commenting Sandra!

  13. Tea /coffee and cakes still on offer. But where do you live ?

    • Hello again Susan, thanks for popping back. I am London so if you are ever free when you next visit do let me know as would be lovely to be able to catch up with you. Sorry not replied sooner was sulking slightly with how much The Vows of Silence upset me. Ha!

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  17. Rosemary Kaye

    Not read Barbara Pym? ! You lucky person,what joys you have before you! Some Tame Gazelle, a Glass of Blessings, No Fond Return of Love, & my absolute favourite, Excellent Women – as David Cecil said, I could go on reading her forever. Hope you enjoy her after all that!

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