Howards End is on the Landing.
Howards End is on the Landing
Hardback 12.99 [pounds sterling]
I hadn't expected this. When I heard that Susan Hill had taken the pledge, had sworn off book buying, and was simply re-reading what was already on her shelves, for a year, I thought great idea. I supposed that the resulting book would provide reflections on her experience, that she'd create a Cook's tour of worthy literature, with a well thumbed classic to love in every port. In a way Howards End is on the Landing is a grand passage through some familiar literary landscapes but it is so much more than that.
As English teachers we believe that words on a page make differences to lives, that the books we read affect us, forge us, renew and inspire us, that we are somehow, the sum of what we've read. We surround ourselves with carefully crafted combinations of words, stuff the shelves with texts that fire our imaginations, books we swear we will return to; books for journeys, for beaches, for bedtime. When I was younger, I loved The Lord of the Rings. I read it endlessly. I fought at Helm's Deep. I battled for the Shire. I was with Frodo on every step of his journey and yet for thirty years that battered copy has remained untouched by my hands. Why?
"But as in fairy tales, sooner or later someone wakes you, even from a sleep of a hundred years, and so I have woken books and taken them out, shaken them and slapped them on the back, opened them to the light and fresh air, sneezing as the dust puffed from their pages. It must have been a shock for them. Or perhaps it was a wonderful liberation, as they were brought back to life and fresh purpose like Lazarus, for a book which is closed and unread is not alive, it is only packed, like a foetus, with potential."
You can't have a conversation with someone about literature without getting to know something about them. I've never met Susan Hill but I've made friends with quite a few of her books. Reading her thoughts on Sillitoe, Storey, and Tolstoy took me back to windy public libraries, cluttered bookshops, to a dying grandmother who couldn't tell me what day it was but knew all about the retreat from Moscow.
Susan Hill's year of reading from home was an inspirational act. Her thoughts opened up associations, connections that I had buried long ago. It will do the same for all lovers of books. It should send us back to worlds we once loved and chose to leave behind. It is a beautiful book. If you read no other memoir this year, do yourself a favour, read this one.