Howards End is on the Landing – Susan Hill

This is the 150th post on my blog so I thought I would purchase a book especially to mark the occasion and what better one could I choose than this. I became aware of this book whilst doing this blog as the concept is similar, Susan decided to spend a year reading the books she already had whilst I started this blog specifically to make me read my own extensive library. There is an irony in buying this book for this blog as she specifically does not buy any books during the year and only reads what she has but I have been going for almost three years now so I think can be excused. Susan Hill is a novelist and has published over sixty books although this is the only one of hers I own or have read and she is probably best known for her ghost story ‘A Woman in Black’ which has also become a TV series, long running play and film. But to introduce this book I can do no better than to quote the opening paragraphs.

IT BEGAN LIKE THIS. I went to the shelves on the landing to look for a book I knew was there. It was not. But plenty of others were and among them I noticed at least a dozen I realised I had never read.
I pursued the elusive book through several rooms and did not find it in any of them, but each time I did find at least a dozen, perhaps two dozen, perhaps two hundred, that I had never read.
And then I picked out a book I had read but had forgotten I owned. And another and another. After that came the books I had read, knew I owned and realised that I wanted to read again.
I found the book I was looking for in the end, but by then it had become far more than a book. It marked the start of a journey through my own library.

I know exactly how she felt.

Susan Hill’s library and mine are very different, and her organisation method would drive me up the wall with books placed wherever she feels they will be most comfortable with companions whose subject, style or author get on together, never place two books by authors who have publicly fallen out next to one another, after all the books might argue as well. Her library is also much more skewed towards the ‘literary novel’ and this was particularly interesting suggesting authors and books to look out for. She is a big fan of Thomas Hardy whom I have struggled with in the past, I own seven of his novels but have only completed one of them, maybe I’ll give her suggestion of ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ a go before finally giving up on him. Equally she doesn’t like science fiction or fantasy singling Terry Pratchett out for particular abhorration, maybe she only tried the really early stuff, if not we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Another section that features large in my library but not in hers is travel writing, I agree with Patrick Leigh Fermor and Bruce Chatwin as giants of this field but there is so much more which she is missing out on. This ability to compare libraries is a particularly fun aspect of the book, who hasn’t, on entering a persons home, not perused the book shelves for a hint of the personality behind them or horror of horrors found no books at all. I love that she still has the pop-up books from when her children were young and we definitely share a love of PG Wodehouse and oddly Gerald Durrell whose books I devoured when I was about ten or eleven and still pick up when I need to have a break from more serious things. She specifically recommends his ‘My Family and Other Animals’ as ideal book for a teenage girl who has grown out of her children’s books, I would suggest it regardless of the sex of the child.

There are chapters on books that have been started but abandoned and books that have never been read and probably won’t be, these fall into two main categories; ones that will stay on the shelves such as Don Quixote although as much for the leather binding and the feeling that it is a classic that deserves space as anything else and books that will head off to the charity shop when next there is a clear out, quite often books suggested by Richard and Judy on their morning TV show. There is even a list of some found on the shelves so far unloved and a brief comment which finishes with

The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I don’t understand how I can have not read it

Romola. George Eliot

I do understand how I can not have read it

I have read The Little Prince and definitely recommend Susan, and indeed everyone else, to have a go. Right at the end of the book Susan lists forty books that, if she was forced to, she could make a library to live with. I admire her restraint, I don’t think I could come up with such a list, there would always be another book calling to me and another and another. However we probably only agree on twenty or so, as expected there are the heavyweight literary novels but so many that are a surprise, especially Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansonn which sits rather awkwardly between Halfway to Heaven by Robin Bruce Lockhart and Clayhanger by Arnold Bennett. I rejoiced to see two novels by PG Wodehouse made the cut as did two by Anthony Trollope, the only authors to have more than one title listed and both are writers whose books fill my shelves where I can easily get to them. I don’t know if ‘Howards End is on the Landing’ would make my cut but it would be a close run thing, after all it’s almost a cheat as you can vicariously have a lot more books from their description in here and having each book brought to mind and memories of reading it partly makes up for not having it at all.

By the way I have checked my own library and sure enough Howards End is on the landing, it must be the natural home of E M Forster’s 1910 novel.

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