Monday, 1 February 2010

House of Books - Howard's End is On The Landing by Susan Hill

Yeah, I've mentioned this one before.

I confess I've never read one of Susan Hill's novels, I haven't even the slightest idea of what she writes, although Those Who Know reckon she's A Literary Heavyweight. Cest la vie, you can't read everyone, although literary snobs would undoubtedly be looking down their nose at me for that admission. But, as a bibilophile with a book collection that's evolving into a world devouring entity, the central idea of the book was irresistible - opt out of the literary rat race and instead turn inward to devour your own collection. Like I say, irresistible, particularly since I don't think I could do it myself.

This is far more personal than a straight autobiography could be. Anyone can tell their life as they saw it. Hill instead puts her library up for public scrutiny, and thereby exposes her personality and tastes for all to see. That's far more daring and interesting than selecting the events in your life you want to show people. And she isn't shy, openly proud of her collections of children's books and pop up books where others might have deliberately dodged mentioning them. I'm not sure I'd actually like Hill if we ever met, there's often the loud clanging of literary name drops, her life path and attitudes differ and our generational outlooks and tastes seem vastly divergent. And she often seems a touch on the haughty side, but given the literary circles she came to maturity in, that's perhaps only to be expected.

The book's at its best when she's enthusing about her favourite books, or books I didn't know about but which she makes fascinating. She's quite brilliant on the subject of the King James Bible and why it matters to her so much, and you'd be a curmudgeonly individual indeed (or a massive bibliophile. Or both) not to be moved to follow up on at least a couple of the books she comes across. I considered it a triumph to restrict myself to two (the already-covered-in-this-blog The Smaller Sky and The Paper House). It's that type of recommendation of books you otherwise probably wouldn't hear of that makes this such a fascinating and worthwhile book, although following up on those recommendations is obviously at odds with the book's central conceit. I'm determined to follow that conceit myself one day, but that book addiction is a hard habit to break. Probably worse than crack, although with less physical symptoms.

It doesn't matter if you've no idea who Hill is, by the end of this book you'll feel like you know her personally. And probably be impressed by how lovely her use of words is. It might only appeal to book lovers, but a book that can make you feel that not buying books is not only a worthwhile exercise, but something of a triumph, and not leave you feeling like a philistine, is a remarkable thing indeed.

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