I’ve just finished Howard’s End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home and want to share my thoughts on it with you.
About the book: 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, in order to get to know her own collection again.
Considering everything from Macbeth through Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl, 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.
My thoughts: I was absolutely, totally charmed by this collection of essays on books loved, books rediscovered, books never read. The premise for the whole exercise is one that every book lover must know. On our shelves are many unread books; in my case, a slew of them that cause feelings of guilt every time I see them.
We are the ones that benefit from Hill’s year-long experiment, for she takes us on a journey of discovery, comparing authors, re-thinking books loved long ago, considering what books stand the test of time, lovingly quoting passages that stun us with their beauty.
Hill is a well-known author who, side note, is married to the great Shakespearean scholar Stanley Wells. Obviously, someone like me who works with Shakespeare fairly frequently is well aware of this man’s work. (What interesting conversations must happen in the Wells-Hill cottage!)
Because Hill has been writing for years, has published other authors’ works, as well as interviewed many of them, she is able to share anecdotes about them with us. From a chance encounter with T. S. Eliot, to meeting Ian Fleming at a party, to deeper friendships with fellow authors, we learn so much about the literary scene in London, the life of writers, the joys and the sadness of their lives. All of this is woven into stories about the books that Hill loves and the memories those books evoke.
I found myself writing down names and titles, many of which were unknown to me, that came alive because of Hill’s consummate story telling. I experienced an almost constant sense of “I must read this.”
And I learned so much.
She’s very opinionated, which makes for powerful writing and commentary. I didn’t always agree with her (she has read Jane Austen, but doesn’t necessarily like her) but I loved learning why she felt the way she did. She proudly writes in books: fiction, non-fiction, it doesn’t matter. She never writes her name in a book and shuns the use of bookplates, all of which might make you shudder or not, as the case may be.
But then, we passionate readers all have our own style of reading, don’t we?
She also comes up with a list of forty books that she would choose if, for some reason, she were only allowed to keep forty titles to read and re-read for the rest of her life.
This book is a treasure. It’s like having a long, cozy conversation with a devoted reader, one who knows literature, who treasures her library, and whose anecdotes make the conversation all the richer.
Above all, the joy of reading is contained in every word on the page.
This one is a keeper. I will refer to it again and again. I just may have to buy it in hardcover.
By the way, this isn’t a new book. It was originally published in 2009, with the paperback edition first published in 2010. But, it’s new to me, and I think, might be new to many of you.
About the author: Susan Hill was born in Scarborough and educated at grammar schools there and in Coventry, and at King’s College, London. She has been professional writer for fifty years and is the author of thirty-seven books, including The Woman in Black and The Man in the Picture. She lives in a farmhouse in the North Cotswolds with her husband, Professor Stanley Wells. They have two daughters.
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I purchased this book for myself.