The Back of the Book (from Amazon): Early one autumn afternoon in pursuit of an elusive book on her shelves, Susan Hill encountered dozens of others that she had never read, or forgotten she owned, or wanted to read for a second time. The discovery inspired her to embark on a year-long voyage through her books, forsaking new purchases in order to get to know her own collection again. A book which is left on a shelf for a decade is a dead thing, but it is also a chrysalis, packed with the potential to burst into new life. Wandering through her house that day, Hill’s eyes were opened to how much of that life was stored in her home, neglected for years. Howards End is on the Landing charts the journey of one of the nation’s most accomplished authors as she revisits the conversations, libraries and bookshelves of the past that have informed a lifetime of reading and writing.
NotJustLaura’s Review: This book wasn’t quite what I expected. I’d wanted to read it for a very long time and I’m glad I finally have but, on the whole, I preferred Tolstoy and the Purple Chair which I also read recently.
The idea for Howard’s End came to Ms Hill when she was searching for one specific book which had become lost with her collection. As she moved from one bookcase to the next she failed to find the volume she wanted but did re-discover various other gems which had been forgotten on the shelves. Realising that she wanted to reconnect with the books in her (clearly extensive) collection, she resolves to spend the next year reading only ‘from home’ rather than bringing in new books. As I also have an extensive collection and am (meant to be) on a book diet I thought a book of challenges and new discoveries would be motivating.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite what I discovered in this book. Yes, it’s a memoir about reading. But it’s not really very much about ‘reading from home’. Oh yes, I believe Ms Hill kept to her resolve and used the books she read that year as a spring-board for her writing. I wanted to read about ‘The day I went to Waterstone’s and bought nothing’ and ‘The day I picked up the book Aunt Annie gave me for Christmas in 1984’. Instead I read about the famous authors Ms Hill has known and her development as a reader from picture books to academia. Howard’s End is on the Landing is less a ‘book of the year I …’ and more ‘all about my life as a reader’. Which is fine if that’s what you’re expecting. I, however, feel just a tiny bit cheated.
On the plus side, Ms Hill’s writing is beautiful and some of the passages about books ‘huddled together’ on their shelves as they wait to be read will stay with me for a lifetime. She has read widely through her life and introduced me to ‘classic’ authors of whom I’d never heard and the book included her list of ‘if I could only keep 40 books …’ which I’m sure it would be an education to read. Actually, that list might have worked better as a device for this memoir rather than the ‘year of reading from home’ but perhaps wouldn’t have had the same marketing appeal.