Monday, January 25, 2010
Howard's End Is On The Landing
I don't collect cat costumes or Pez dispensers. I don't collect doilies or door knobs and I certainly don't collect friends but there are two things that I do collect: books and knitting supplies. The knitting supplies consist of more yarn than I will use in 5 years of 24/7 knitting and needles in every size and every color in every size. Hey! Mock not. If I'm knitting a gray sweater I don't think that it's unreasonable to want bronze (thank you Susan Bates) needles to knit it on.
Anyway. The books?
I do not keep every book that makes it's way into my house. If I start it and don't like it, out it goes. Most times even if I loved it, it leaves. I keep a few much loved books, books that I want to pass onto a friend, books to give a niece or nephew when they reach the right age and any and all knitting books that I come in contact with. But. Those count as reference, right? We can take those out of the equation. And... I don't need to dust more and since love won't dust I have to have a might strong need to keep a book for longer than it takes to read it So bottom line you will not find rooms and rooms of books in my house.
At the starting point for Howards End Is On The Landing, British author Susan Hill is searching for a specific book in her house full of books. During her search she finds hundreds of books that she has purchased over the years that she hasn't yet read, books she's read and forgotten and the books that have touched her the most. She decides that for the next year she will forgo any new book purchases and instead re-read the best loved books she has. She is going to make a list. This list will be the 40 books she could survive on if she had to. Jealous? Me too. Her seemingly bottomless pit of coziness farmhouse is something to envy as well.
As Hill reads and offers up critical judgments On The Landing (Love the cover by the way) also becomes an autobiographical ramble. Hill's successful career as a writer and playwright has brought people like Auden, T.S. Eliot, Penelope Fitzgerald, Bruce Chatwin and Ian Fleming into her life. She shares stories of her famous acquaintances with as much down to Earth joy as she shares anecdotes about her childhood readings and musings on her student lodgings with mystery reading nuns. Most genres and fads come under her view and it can be quite amusing. There is no science here. This is not a doctorate on what makes a good book. Hill chattily shares a lifetime of firm ideas and taste about what she loves to read and why. She offers none to gentle persuasion about what you could be reading, but this is her list and the arbitrariness of it is what appeals to a reader the most.
Hill's opinions are fierce and fascinating. She unashamedly cannot abide Australian and Canadian writers. She finds Jane Austen's "porcelain veneer" boring. This is not, however a Negative Nellie rant on awful books and what is wrong with publishing today. On The Landing is a nonstop reader's love letter to reading. It is a celebratory re-examining of the events and people who have influenced Hill's book choices. There are many titles and authors that she is a passionate advocate for that are now on my list: Elizabeth Jane Howard, Mayor's The Rector's Wife, Wain's The Smaller Sky, etc. So while Hill is downsizing her library she is helping me create a shopping list.
P.S. Howards End Is On The Landing is not currently published in the U.S. Maybe it will be soon? I hope so because I don't think I'm going to share my copy.