“Howard’s End is on the Landing” by Susan Hill

My friend A of New Century Reading and I have a semi-regular book swap going now. We lend each other books with overlong library queues, or, in the case of Susan Hill’s Howard’s End is on the Landing, ones that are otherwise not easily available.

I think it was at Pages Turned that I first read about this book, and knew I must read it, then was stunned to find it not at the library, as it’s not (yet) published in the US. I successfully fought down the “WANT IT NOW!” urge to buy it from some site I’ve forgotten the name of (probably for the best) that sells international books for only $25 and no shipping or something, and was thrilled to find that A. had a copy.

Hill is an English author. One day while looking in her shelves for a book she knew she owned, she instead found many unread books, and many more that she had formerly loved and wanted to re-read. Like I’ve done many times, she made a book vow. Unlike me, though, she kept it (or if she slipped, she didn’t admit it in the book.) Hers was to only read from her shelves for a year.

The journey through my own books involved giving up buying new ones, and that will seem a perverse act for someone who is both an author and a publisher…

I wanted to repossess my books, to explore what I had accumulated over a lifetime of reading, and to map this house of many volumes. There are enough here to divert, instruct, entertain, amaze, amuse, edify, improve, enrich me for far longer than a year and every one of them deserves to be taken down and dusted off, opened and read…

There is no doubt that of the thousands of new books published every year many are excellent and some will stand the test of time. A few will become classics. But I wanted to stand back and let the dust settle on everything new, while I set off on a journey through my books.
(p. 2, 3)

The book is both an autobiography of the author’s literary life, including numerous encounters with famous figures in literature. At times I found the name dropping tiresome. But the book overall so engaged me that, like a friend, I accepted it on its merits, which are many. Hill loosely chronicles her year and the books she reads. All of those she writes about are re-reads of favorites, like those of Iris Murdoch or Elizabeth Bowen, or a defense of oft-maligned former favorites, like those by Enid Blyton and Anthony Trollope. She didn’t write about reading any books from her shelves that were new-to-her, however long they’d been sitting.

Hill writes clearly and with affection, both of the books she admires and the people she’s known. Many of the authors she mentioned I knew, but many I didn’t. Reading this was like spending several afternoons in the company of a bookish, learned friend. It reminded me pleasantly of Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. (Heavens, was that really almost four years ago?) The major downside to both of those, though? Now there are so many more authors I want to explore, beyond those already sitting on my shelves.

6 Responses to ““Howard’s End is on the Landing” by Susan Hill”

  1. Steph Says:

    I remember when this book was first released over in the UK because it started popping up on all the Brit book blogs. At first I was really intrigued because it sounded exactly like my kind of book, but then the more I read, the more wary I became. Some reviewers felt Hill was quite dismissive of book bloggers in general, and I remember being rather put-off by the idea that she pans Jane Austen as well as both Australian and Canadian fiction in their entirety. As a Canadian Janeite, I’m not sure which of those I find more offensive! ;)

  2. Amy Says:

    Loved it too, though I could not possibly agree with her assessment of Jane Austen. :-)

  3. weirleader Says:

    It was a surprise to recognize the name “Enid Blyton” mentioned above; I hadn’t thought of the name in years, and I believe I’ve only read one book by her (The Castle of Adventure… had to look it up), yet I still recall the author.

    The brain is a strange thing. I suspect it’s been nearly 25 years since I read that book. But I seem to recall enjoying it!

  4. girldetective Says:

    WL, US kids aren’t as familiar with Blyton as UK kids. They’re like Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys, but better written because they weren’t assembly written. I have one book by her that I loved as a child, Five Caught in a Treacherous Plot (in UK it’s Five Get into Trouble). I just went to look at it, and found another girl’s name inscribed on the inside. I recall her from 3rd or 4th grade; I wonder if I permanently borrowed that book from her?!? Well, she’s not getting it back, now. I’m just going to assume she told me to keep it. I read her about the same time as I read the Trixie Beldens.

  5. girldetective Says:

    Steph and Amy, I too find it hard to identify with someone who doesn’t get Jane, but Hill states it that way–that she doesn’t get her, not that she actively dislikes her. Ditto for the Australian and Canadian lit–she just doesn’t get it. The main thing I remember her noting about book bloggers is that they tend to read fast, and she advocates reading SLOW. She’s also in favor of less computer for more reading time, so not in the same frame as most book bloggers. But she’s well and widely read, and has interesting things to say on many authors, so even if her tastes didn’t mesh with mine, I enjoyed it. Also, it’s a really lovely little book with a good cover and pleasing size for the hand.

    After the recent 15 project, I def. see her point about fast reading. I know I didn’t get as much out of some of those books as if I’d read them at my leisure.

  6. Steph Says:

    I suppose I might gain some insight if I actually read her book, but I don’t see how one can pan an entire country’s literature. I mean, honestly, what’s not to get in Canadian or Australian writing? After all, L.M. Montgomery and Douglas Coupland are both Canadian authors and yet not anything alike… so I guess I just don’t see how one can universally say writing from one country isn’t for them. It’s just really odd to me.