Monday, 19 October 2009
Howards End is on the landing
It was with much anticipation that I awaited my copy of Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. I'd read a number of pre-publication reviews, tried and failed to get hold of my own review copy, and then had to deal with the vagaries of the post in Oxford at the moment. The book finally arrived on Tuesday, and I "saved" it until the next evening to entertain me while my boyfriend was out. In fact. I didn't manage to save it that long, and started reading it on Wednesday lunchtime.
I'm sure most book bloggers are familiar with the premise of the book. Susan Hill realised one day that she had many unread books on her shelves, as well as many books on her shelves which she wanted to re-read. So she gave herself a year where she would not acquire any new books (with the exception of borrowing academic books from the library and books that she had to review for work) and read just from her shelves. Howards End is on the landing is the result of this book.
The book covers a wide range of themes to do with books, bibliophilia and reading. She talks about poetry, about the short story, about children's books, organisation of books, the "dregs" and authors both famous and more obscure. She writes about encounters with authors, so the book is as much a memoir as an exposition on books. I was pleased to see the weight given to a book that I recently love - The Rector's Daughter by F.M. Mayor. She also discusses current issues such as the growth of the e-book reader and whether this can ever overcome the joy of the book as an object (it won't).
I identified with much of the book. I felt less bad about my recent purchase of two copies of Diary of a Provincial Lady after learning that Hill has three different editons of the complete Thomas Hardy. And I did like the beautifully printed dust jacket which was fitting given the emphasis given to books as objects.
However, while I was delighted by the different topics and content and Hill's writing style, I was left feeling a little disappointed by it. The chapters were very short and didn't really run on from each other. Hill only introduced the thread of "what if I could only have 40 books to read for the rest of my life" towards the end of the book, which I felt might have been better introduced near the beginning. I felt that perhaps this would have worked well as a blog, or series of journalistic artices which were then brought together in a book. It just didn't really work as a book for me. Controversially, I wonder if this is why it has appealed so much to bloggers, because the content is in the bite-sized format that we are used to.
I was relieved that Paperback reader was not effusive about this title; I had wondered when reading it if I had missed something, and delayed my review to see if I changed my mind. I hadn't. Nice as a book of anecdotes but not the literary volume that I was anticipating.