Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Howards End is on the Landing

My own discovery of Susan Hill came via DGR, and I have found her to be quite a curious woman. She is a literary novelist who writes detective fiction (which I've read and enjoyed), she is a publisher, she was a prolific blogger until she gave it up, and on her blog she used to rave passionately about how climate change is bunk. She is fiercely opinionated, intelligent, a bit grumpy and very sort of fascinating, and her new book has the most exquisite dustjacket I've laid eyes upon in ages.

Howards End is on the Landing is the story of a literary year, from one book to another, during which Hill resolved to stop accumulating new books and revisit her own library instead. A chance encounter with Howards End (on the landing, naturally) had had her realize just how many of her own books she hadn't yet read, or how many others required rereading, and which of the rest would be essential favourites if she had to choose. And the book that resulted is a catalogue of sorts-- not of the reading per se, but of hypothetical reading as Hill decides which books to spend her year with. She finishes the book with her "final forty" of books she couldn't live without, but also explores books she hasn't read and will never read, and why. Books she hasn't read yet, but she's waiting. She considers her daughters' YA novels, an extensive collection of pop-up books, the books that bring literature to life for children now (Harry Potter) and then (Enid Blyton). Why certain books are grouped together on her shelves (for height, for example) and the unlikelihood of some of this organization, why her library remains resolutely uncatalogued, bookplates are for weenies, and chance encounters with characters from EM Forster to Ian Fleming throughout her literary life.

I've read this kind of reading commentary referred to as "book chat", somewhat dismissively in regards to bookish blogs. But I actually think that these discussions of how books relate to one another, how every day life and reading life overlaps, of the library as a diary-- it's fascinating, when done right, and opens up the literature in question exponentially. And it sends waves out into the world-- Hill has left me wanting to revisit Elizabeth Taylor, it was because of her I purchased The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen at the airport bookshop, and I'm now interested in plenty of other writers as well who aren't even called Elizabeth.

It leaves me wanting to go in and re-explore my own bookshelves too, which are now richer for this addition.