Howard’s End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home, Susan Hill 2009

As I began to think about my reading plan for the coming year, I was reminded of Hill’s book in which she stopped buying new books for a year and simply read from the dozens of books in her home which she had not ever read or which she wanted to return to.  When I re-read it, I was totally taken by this slim volume which is really more about her life as a reader than about the year of reading.  A popular writer of crime and horror novels, a publisher, and former BBC Bookshelf interviewer, Hill shares her favorite writers and books and is eminently quotable on both writing and reading.  I learned a great deal about authors I thought I knew well (Dickens, Hardy, Woolf, Spark, Sebald, Penelope Fitzgerald, and Anita Brookner) and learned about new ones as well (Arnold Bennett, Ian Rankin, Elizabeth Bowen, Iris Murdoch, and a poet who I had never heard of, Charles Causley).   Hill is somewhat limited by her Anglophilia and failure to read much beyond the borders of the UK, but her thoughts about reading resonated with me:  “…books can give sustenance to any readers who can immerse themselves in its beautiful and reflective prose and allow themselves to rest there.”  She is copious in her praise of Lord David Cecil, a British critic whose book has been sitting on my shelf for years without my ever opening it.  She quotes Cecil as follows:  “the (literary critic’s) aim should be to interpret the work and to help readers appreciate it by defining and analyzing those qualities that make it precious and by indicating the angle of vision from which its beauties are visible.”  She refers to the chain that links “Sebald (one of my very favorites), East Anglia (where he taught), F. M. Mayor (the author of The Rector’ Daughter, which Hill calls the best novel ever written about love), and on and on with literary and personal connections which she refers to as “my own chain of lighted rooms.”, a concept of connection that I’ve always loved about reading.  Hill’s final chapter creates a list of the Forty Books she would choose if she were to be limited to reading only 40 books for the rest of her life.  It’s an odd assortment starting with The Bible and the Book of Common Prayer and including works by Shakespeare, Dickens, etc, but it’s also full of some good ideas.  I could go on and on but if you’re a person who loves reading and reading about reading, then this is a book you will enjoy.  Hill quotes Charles Causley, the poet I’ve never heard of before, as saying that great poetry “makes your hair catch fire.”  I had some of that feeling while reading this book.