Howards End is on the Landing: A year of reading from home

Howards End is on the LandingHowards End is on the Landing
by Susan Hill
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781846682650
Publication Date: January 1, 2009
Pages: 236
Genre: Books and Reading, Memoir
Publisher: Profile Books

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.


I had issues with this book and with the author.  Mostly the author.  She starts off strong, impressing me with the fact that the first book she chooses from her library to read again is a Dorothy L. Sayers.  She goes on the name more than a few books we both have on our shelves, and I’m just settling in with delight, when she suddenly turns uppity.  And I don’t mean with the name dropping – she’s met famous authors and they make up important moments in her memoirs, that’s fine.  But in the fourth or fifth chapter she opens with “Girls read more than boys, always have, always will. That’s a known fact.”  Well, that’s a bold and rather inflexible statement.  I don’t quarrel with girls reading more than boys historically, or even presently, but to state categorically that they always will, and state it’s a known fact rankled.  I knew Susan Hill is an author and publisher, but I didn’t know she was a prognosticator too.

If only this was a one off, I’d probably have forgotten by now.  Alas it was not.  In a chapter about writing in books, she says “Bookplates are for posers.”  Wow.  She then explains how she unapologetically scribbles in all her books, folds down pages, cracks spines, etc.  But Bookplates are for posers.  Nice to know where Susan Hill draws the line.  Personally, I’d never use a bookplate or write in my books, or dog-ear pages, but I’m also not going to judge anyone who chooses to do those things to their books.  I’m totally ok judging Susan Hill for her self-defensive and hypocritical judging of others who enjoy bookplates, though.

In another chapter she talks about covers and fine bindings, offering a backhanded compliment to The Folio Society by praising their products, but suspecting those who own them as “not being a proper reader”.  To which she can kiss my south-side.  I own Folio Society editions and I read them.  In fact the list of authors and stories I’ve discovered because of my Folios is long and distinguished.

In between all these grievances, and in spite of all the books we have in common, she fails to connect with me, the reader.  While I admire her honesty and forthrightness about her trouble with Jane Austen’s work – even though it mystifies me – I can’t help but think her failing is the same one she perceives in Austen’s work:  “… I never feel empathy with, or closeness to, an Austen character.”  I could not find a closeness or commonality with Susan Hill.

I finished the book out of sheer cussedness, I think.  I have her second memoir, Jacob’s Room is Full of Books, but I can’t see mustering any enthusiasm for it after this one.  Perhaps out of perverseness, to see who she manages to belittle or insult next, but I doubt I’ll ever be that curious.

2 thoughts on “Howards End is on the Landing: A year of reading from home”

  1. “… I never feel empathy with, or closeness to, an Austen character.”

    Sometimes that does fall on the author’s shoulders, but I have found more often than not that the root cause is the reader themselves. Sounds like Susan Hill needs to be a just a little bit more self-aware….

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