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Howards End is on the Landing – Susan Hill

21 Aug

LandingLightsEarly 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. Howard’s 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.

After the disappointment of Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, I needed something which would encourage me more in my bookish ways (as well as reinforce my reasons to unashamedly buy more) and this one does just that.  It views the personal landscape of a famous author’s reading life, in which she doesn’t buy any books for a year – something I tried once and it made me feel miserable – and focuses on the ones she has.

As well as her detailed bibliophilic thoughts, there is also talk of fonts, titles and years of accumulating books and the associated memories of where they were brought and the circumstance of the time, it’s an autobiographical insight into Hill and her influences.  There are chapters about authors, genres and attitudes all with plenty of anecdotes which allows the reader to get to know her somewhat.

A litany of authors and aspects of the fine art of reading are discussed and it’s good to be reminded that spending time with one’s own carefully built collection can be as rewarding as reading from it.  It seems easy sometimes to take for granted what we have and see everyday and we probably forget just how rich our lives for having them so close at hand.

There are diversity of genres (albeit, mostly fiction) and authors discussed, it’s all agreeable and amiable in its way, especially in the chapter ‘It Ain’t Broke’ which argues against the charmless e-reader.  Howards End is Not on the Landing gives an excuse to hoard more books but also it’s a lament to the ones sadly abandoned or worse not read; as well as an encouragement to explore the obscurantism of books, to delve into the lesser known and pass on the gems to other lucky and voracious readers.

I came across plenty of books in these pages that I haven’t yet discovered and therein is the excitement that every reader feels when they have more treasure to delve into, it also has the added bonus of giving an insight into Hill’s style of writing and her inspirations.  Yet whilst I enjoyed the book for that reason, some of Hill’s biases are annoying.  It’s to be expected in such a personal book so whilst I disagree with her on some things, especially her overall dismissing of Australian and Canadian authors.  These idiosyncrasies are sure to cause debate amongst readers which is always a good thing, personally I would point Hill to Patrick White’s Voss and then tell her she’s welcome.

There is a tendency also to champion certain writers whom she checks back to time and again.  Whilst it’s great to enthuse about them, the book is supposed to be about the exploration of her collection and from the blurb my impression was that there would be more breadth in terms of authors and book titles.  From Hill’s descriptions, hundreds of books weren’t even mentioned and that is something of a disappointment.

Whilst I enjoyed what the book did give me, there was also a keen sense of something missing, I was left wanting more about what Hill read throughout the whole year and her reaction to that literature.  Yet towards the end of the book, the focus changes rather pointlessly to working out a list of only forty books she’d read for the rest of her life.  That idea could have been made into a separate book, although it does prevent another intriguing diversion for the reader.  I come away from the book with the feeling of having entertained thoroughly but also being left quite empty by it.  Plenty of books weren’t mentioned (as you’d expect) but the scope seemed a little too narrow for me to really appreciate what she was writing about.

Devouring it quickly, the book does give me a reminder to appreciate poetry more, as well as true and joyous affirmation of our love for reading and collecting.  It will probably split readers though with Hill’s opinions such as her complaining about people who read lots of books a week, presumably she assumes we all process books (including hers) in the same way which is nonsensical!  That is just another part of this books charm though, no matter how infuriating it sometimes is there are many talking points that will keep you debating the manner in which you not only think about your collection but even how you store it.

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40 Comments

Posted by on 21/08/2016 in Autobiography, Book Memories, Essays

 

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

  1. Heartafire

    21/08/2016 at 17:06

    I really love what is written here …a dead book is a chrysalis! btw, love Howard’s End.

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    • Ste J

      21/08/2016 at 17:14

      I haven’t read Howards End yet although I enjoyed A Room With a View. Hill writes some lovely passages about books which makes me happy. I don’t think Books are dead, they are dormant waiting for the right reader.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Heartafire

        21/08/2016 at 17:21

        A Room With a View is a great book. Howard’s End is probably not for everyone. Personally, I couldn’t put it down. Books are amazing, the escape into those pages, the scent of an old book, all good!

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        • Ste J

          21/08/2016 at 17:24

          I struggled with A Passage to India when I was younger so need to get back into Forster again and will start with HE. Not only the smell and the feel but also how they look on the shelves…it’s so much more than just reading.

          Liked by 1 person

           
          • Heartafire

            21/08/2016 at 17:26

            It really is! I love a room full of book, I love the library…yes, I really do 🙂

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            • Ste J

              21/08/2016 at 17:37

              There are some amazing libraries, I’m busy trying to make my own…although I hate to lend, I would rather buy them for others lol.

              Liked by 1 person

               
              • Heartafire

                21/08/2016 at 17:47

                My latest is a trilogy by James Fenimore Cooper, Leatherstocking Tales. So far I haven’t read it…though I have read The Deer Slayer before which is included in this trilogy.

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                • Ste J

                  21/08/2016 at 17:51

                  I haven’t read anything from of JFC’s yet. I’m so under read. I look forward to your thoughts on the series though and will hopefully pick up one of his soon.

                  Liked by 1 person

                   
                  • Heartafire

                    21/08/2016 at 17:54

                    If I ever get to it will let you know:) Have a great day.

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  2. anna amundsen

    21/08/2016 at 18:36

    I am glad you’ve recovered from ”Ex Libris”.
    ”Howard’s End..” has its flaws, as you pointed out, but I thought it pretty good. Lots of new writers were noted down, which is one of the things these kind of books serve for.
    I agree with you – I wouldn’t have minded more names!

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    • Ste J

      22/08/2016 at 11:07

      I always find these books partly satisfying and partly infuriating due to my picky nature. I did get a few names out of it and the love for reading is reinforced once again so that pleases me.

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  3. shadowoperator

    21/08/2016 at 19:03

    You find more interesting corners of literature (and not only literal corners with books in them!). I’ve heard of Susan Hill before, but if she really dismisses Canadian writers as a whole, she’s far off target. There are so many I’ve had a look at, a few I’ve had time to read, and numerous ones who have won great awards. Just for fun, pick up an oldie-but-goodie, Robertson Davies. He has written several trilogies that are really lots of fun and very worth reading. Try “The Deptford Trilogy,” or the trilogy composed of “The Rebel Angels,” “What’s Bred in the Bone,” and “The Lyre of Orpheus” (if I haven’t gotten crossed up with some of his titles from another trilogy. I’ve read several, and they all have enchanting titles). Margaret Atwood is a foregone conclusion when you’re talking about great and innovative writers. I can’t figure out what Susan Hill was thinking of! And that’s to name only two who are famous worldwide. Or there’s a little farther back, with a book called “The Bear,” by Marian Engel (Engle? It was so long ago I read it); it’s very iconic in its use of a wild animal to symbolize the Canadian wilderness. And that’s just naming three authors. Anyway, you get my point. About Australian authors, I can’t comment, as I haven’t knowingly read many. But any blanket and wholesale dismissal of a whole continent surely can’t be right/(write!) (and if anyone is the one to discover that, you are!).

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    • Ste J

      22/08/2016 at 11:32

      I was totally flummoxed by her statement! I had to hunt out a list of Canadian authors as I don’t really pay attention to the author’s nationality but to dismiss countries probably means she finds out where the authors come from first before reading books, maybe?

      Thanks for the list, I realise how poorly read I am of Canadian authors, I can only think of Martell, Ondaajte and Atwood, I must do better!

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  4. Resa

    21/08/2016 at 22:02

    The blurb made it sound exciting, at first… then not. I was hoping the year long voyage would turn into a tale of …. something… yet, it turned into more books. Although, I do love actual books. They are a tangible richness. I’ve given Ebooks a fair try, but Ebooks are not for me.

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    • Ste J

      22/08/2016 at 11:14

      Ebooks just don’t do it for me either and I have dabbled with them. I would have preferred a book about the books read and how they affected Hill, perhaps with a few mentions of how reread books had changed for her. It’s worth a read for the love of books and to know about more about the author if you’re a fan. The problem with such books as this is that they never live up to my expectations because I set the bar too high.

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  5. gargoylebruce

    21/08/2016 at 22:15

    Dismissing Australian authors??! She must have a few Roos loose in the top paddock.

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    • Ste J

      22/08/2016 at 11:00

      I can understand somebody dismissing certain authors but to make such a sweeping judgement is a poor one to say the least.

      I’m convinced you make up these sayings to conform to the stereotype I expect.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • gargoylebruce

        23/08/2016 at 00:30

        Never! I’m as busy as a blue-assed fly. I don’t have time to make up such codswallopry.

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  6. clarepooley33

    22/08/2016 at 00:26

    I enjoyed HEIOTL very much when I read it a few years ago. I borrowed it from my mother and so haven’t got it to hand to look through again before commenting here. I do remember feeling that she seemed to drift about a bit in a vague way almost as though she’d forgotten what she’d intended doing. I just assumed she is like that anyway and not a systematic and thorough person. She has similar likes and dislikes to my mother so I accepted her biases without feeling too surprised. My mother has always had an antipathy to books printed in the States and Canada as she doesn’t like the US spelling. I spent my formative years never having read any books from either of those countries (none at home or at school) and had a bit of catching up to do once I could afford to buy my own books.

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    • Ste J

      22/08/2016 at 11:55

      It is amazing how wide the world of books is, when I started to read I had a narrow view but now there are treasures everywhere. It leads to a reappraisal of how authors are viewed in my collection, I have no idea where half of the authors actually come from. Although the book was bitty, the distraction of a bookshelf is something we are all familiar with!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  7. Letizia

    22/08/2016 at 16:11

    I’ve often thought that I should stop buying books for a while and just reread the ones I have and read the ones I have that I never got around to reading (or have started but, for whatever reason, they didn’t engage me). But then, like you, I love discovering new books. Sometimes we just have to accept that some of the book in our “to be read” pile are just not going to be read and donate them to someone else, I suppose.

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    • Ste J

      22/08/2016 at 18:16

      Like Hill I managed a whole year but then ruined it by a major splurge in the January which reached ridiculous proportions. The more we read, the more we need to read and something has to give, luckily I tend to give books away and forget about them so at least I don’t miss them. We will just have to do our best my friend and try and see as many sites as possible in the meantime.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  8. Bumba

    22/08/2016 at 22:20

    I never read the Forster books, but loved the movies. I know you’re into collecting books, and I know you have two books by a Bronx author. I now find the public library sufficient and it allows me to try and sample stuff too.

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    • Ste J

      22/08/2016 at 22:53

      Two books and The Phantom Speaks, that counts as three and I do wish you would add to that tally as I am a fan! Libraries are great, although my local one is more computers and people sat staring into space which is a shame. I do love to have the great books near me, they help inspire me…and other excuses that addicts have.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  9. macjam47

    22/08/2016 at 22:34

    Even though you left me conflicted about this one, I’ve added it to my book wish list. I’ve plenty of time to decide whether or not to read it.

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    • Ste J

      22/08/2016 at 22:44

      It’s worth a read and has some great points to it, I just find that with so many of this type of book, not to expect too much or indeed hope it will be like you imagine.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. Gitanjali Singh Cherian

    23/08/2016 at 12:20

    Oh this sounds like my ongoing reading challenge for this year – to read 15 books I already own (some for over a decade!) but haven’t yet read 🙂 I did not however add the bit about not purchasing any new books. I would have failed in that department. Miserably. In the first month itself for sure! 🙂 Nice review Ste J.

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    • Ste J

      23/08/2016 at 13:57

      It’s tough to not buy any books, in fact it is nigh on impossible! I have a shelf of guilt, so called for those books I really should have read but have been hanging around on the fringes of the collection for years. You set a good example though.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  11. Liz Dexter

    26/08/2016 at 08:47

    I read this years ago – I remember she was rude about people who organised their shelves (me!) but nice about Iris Murdoch, and that’s it. Books about books promise so much and seem to disappoint so badly when they’re not AMAZING.

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    • Ste J

      26/08/2016 at 12:45

      As book lovers we crave so much, I suppose it’s almost inevitable that we are disappointed. There is a fine line between being passionate and snobby, not that I mind that but it has to be the sort of snobbishness I agree with otherwise it’s just wrong! I was a bit put out by being told I can’t really understand books if I read them quickly…that left me perplexed as I read this one quickly so maybe I just didn’t get it after all…

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Liz Dexter

        26/08/2016 at 14:27

        Ha – indeed. I’ve spent my life being told that about reading quickly, so I’d ignore that if I were you!

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        • Ste J

          29/08/2016 at 16:52

          I read it quickly because I am petty.

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  12. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    29/08/2016 at 13:49

    Really loved the analogy of a long-forgotten extinct book with a chrysalis. And, it sounds like a completely different kind of read. by the way, a whole year she spent without buying a single book! That’s quite an achievement…

    Like

     

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