A week ago on Facebook, I discussed Helene Hanff's wonderful book of letters, 84, Charing Cross Road, and a friend recommended another book. She said I definitely needed to read Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing. Hill's tastes are a little more literary than mine, but there's a shared passion for books. Since Hill lives in England, some of the titles were British, so I wasn't familiar with them, or, in some cases, even the authors. However, it's a wonderful book for discovery.
Hill was looking for a book, one that she knew was on the landing of her house. It wasn't there, but it led her to a year's adventure. She decided to spend a year reading only the books that were in the house, with the exception of academic books she would borrow from libraries, and books she received for review. It led to a year of serendipitous reading.
The chapters seem to wander through Hill's life as she wanders through her house and her books. Here's Hill as a child in the library. Did you know in a time when infectious and contagious diseases were more common, books in the children's library were fumigated and marked fumigated? Here she is on the doorstep with T.S. Eliot, or at a party with Ian Fleming. Her chapters cover everything from children's books to women's novels, poetry, pop-up books, Charles Dickens, favorite authors, Virginia Woolf, things found in her books, picture books, and diaries. She discusses classics and the authors who wrote them, the authors she knew, authors and books that have been forgotten. It's a well-rounded book covering an eclectic selection. It's obvious Hill and her husband are scholars with books covering a myriad of subjects. And, then there's that question to make every reader think. You can only have forty books for the rest of your life. What forty will you keep from your own collection?
I'm glad a friend suggested Howards End is on the Landing. Hill shares her passion for books, the actual physical paper book as well as the contents and the authors. It's a joy to read about her book collection and her life of books. And, she sums every joyful reader up with one paragraph. "Books help to form us. If you cut me open, will you find volume after volume, page after page, the contents of every one I have ever read, somehow transmuted and transformed into me?...But if the books I have read have helped to form me, then probably nobody else who ever lived has read exactly the same books, all the same books and only the same books, as me. So just as my genes and the soul within me make me uniquely me, so I am the unique sum of the books I have read. I am my literary DNA."
Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing is her fascinating exploration of her literary DNA.
Susan Hill's website is www.susan-hill.com
Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. Profile Books. 2009. ISBN 9781846682667 (paperback), 236p.
FTC Full Disclosure - Library book