Monday, May 2, 2011

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

35. Howards End is on the Landing
A year of reading from home
by Susan Hill
nonfiction, 2009
library book
finished, 4/23/11

I've recently changed things around a bit in our rather newly painted study. I took out the La-Z-Boy and put it in the living room where it is so perfect for watching television, and I brought my favorite sitting chair into the study. Next to it is a reading lamp I bought at LL Bean. It is a great lamp because it swivels, and it moves up and down.

One evening, after I'd borrowed Howards End is on the Landing from the library, I sat down and read almost 90 pages. It was pure bliss. Reading about books, by a great writer and lover of reading, in a room full of books. Occasionally, I would look up at my own books and I felt such contentment. The next day and evening I finished the book.

Many people have written about this book. I wasn't sure I would like it, since I generally don't care for books about books. So often they are full of books I've never read, and don't want to read. Oh, but this one is sublime. I felt as if the author was in my own head and heart. There were passages that made me feel as if I were reading my own literature diary.
There are some in every room, on every shelf and bedside table, though the two main collections are kept together, the best in the alcoves beside the drawing-room fireplace, the rest next to Thomas Hardy in the Small Dark Den. That is 113 assorted books by or about Virginia Woolf, and a few on Bloomsbury in general, with a run of the sadly short-lived Charleston Magazine thrown in. Easy to remember where it all began but harder to explain why a youthful interest which accorded with my aspirations at the time should not only never have faded but have greatly increased over so many years. Where are such passions formed, not only for an author and their work but for everything surrounding them, their lives, family, friends, the places in which they lived, their psyches?
As anyone who reads these letters knows, I love Virginia Woolf beyond words. This love began when I was in my early twenties at Boston University. At that time, she was just beginning to get popular again. In a 1972 book called Recollections of Virginia Woolf, Joan Russell Noble says that not much has been written about Virginia Woolf. Doesn't that just seem unbelievable? Anyhow, I fell in love with her writing, her life and times. One day John Lehmann came to the college to talk about Virginia and Leonard, and his own work at the Hogarth Press. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. And Susan Hill describes my feelings that day just perfectly.
I used to look at him [George Rylands, a 'sales rep' for the Hogarth Press], as I also looked at William Plomer, another friend of the Woolfs, in bemusement that here they were, chatting to me, and there they had once been, chatting to Virginia.
The chapter titles are all wonderful, and in one called Laughter in the Next Room she says,
Humour in books is a very personal thing and not a subject about which to be superior. I am always overjoyed when my recommendation of P.G. Wodehouse is successful. Only recently, when I recommended a friend start with The Mating Season, the next e-mail I got from him was headed 'What ho!' But it ain't always so. Another friend said he couldn't see the point of spending time with such silly asses. You can't convert someone like that, you just have to let it be.
Along with loving my two favorites, Woolf and Wodehouse, she also enjoys other writers who mean a lot to me, such as Gerald Durrell and Roald Dahl. In an excellent, and heartfelt review of this book, Eva noted that:
Quite early, I realised that Hill is a different type of reader than me; while I love to read diversely, she's quite insular. The vast majority of books she talks about are British and 'non-genre' at that; it goes without saying they are by white authors.
And I guess when I think seriously about my own reading, I'd have to say that is pretty much me. I was amazed to realize at quite a young age that my heart and soul lay over the ocean. I recently told another blogger that when Tom and I were in our twenties, we gathered information on moving to England, but ultimately could not put our animals through the six-month quarantine which was then required. I love my country, and its authors, but the Brits are the lifeblood of my reading life, from those already mentioned to Miss Read and E.M. Delafield and John Mortimer and E.M. Forster. You may have noticed that the photo of Howards End is on the Landing is placed next to my two copies of Howards End. And I have a Kindle version as well. It is one of my top favorite books of all time.

In another instance of recognition, Susan Hill expressed what I'm always going on and on about - the rise of issue books for young people.
Since our children's books were first bought, fiction for young readers has become more and more issue-led. Divorce, step-parents, drugs, alcohol, early sex, knife-crime, foster-care, child abuse, unemployment, gang warfare, AIDS, terminal illness ... you name it, there is a novel for children about it. But all children are anxious, adult life contains much that is ugly and unhappy, unpleasant or downright bad. Why introduce them to that too early, through books, which can be such a force for enjoyment, imaginative enrichment, fun, excitement, adventure, magic? Realism comes home soon enough and many children have too much anguish to cope with in their everyday lives as it is. Their books can be one corner of life that remains untainted by the troubles brought upon their heads by unthinking, unloving adults. I am glad mine remained ignorant of much that is polluted, cruel, ugly, hurtful, wrong as long as possible (which is not, after all, very long, in the scheme of things) and that their books were wholesome, enriching, enlivening, enjoyable, lovable and, for the most part, were about worlds into which they could happily, innocently escape.
And to that I say, 'amen,' as I do to the whole book. Susan Hill puts into words, over and over again my thoughts, my feelings, my love of certain books and authors. Of course, I'm not a fan of every single author she writes about, like Dickens, for example.

The cover is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. It reminds me of the notecards and bookmarks I've seen of the shelves at the Bodleian Library. And, as you may guess, I've already ordered my own copy of Howards End is on the Landing.


  1. You've written such a lovely post on what I thought was a wonderful book that now I want to get it out and read it all over again, Nan. I'd forgotten Susan Hill loved Gerald Durrell's books. I sent my grand-daughter home with two of his collecting animals books last week. At least I know it won't be full of 'modern adult issues'. At almost 11 she really doesn't need that kind of thing in her reading just yet. Wonderful post.

  2. Thank you, thank you, Cath! And how fortunate your grand-daughter is to have such a grandmother! I'm much fonder of Gerald than his brother, though I keep saying I'm going to read The Alexandria Quartet again soon. :<)

  3. OMG, I must get this book NOW! Thank you for letting me know about it.

  4. I too love this book, it is always out, never put away. I love her book, "Under the Magic Apple Tree' too, in fact I prefer her memoirs to her novels, many of which I find too scary or unpleasant.
    I agree with you about Dickens Nan, and I too love Virginia W. in fact I feel a re-read of her coming on!

  5. This is the first time I hear (well, rather read than hear) about Susan Hill. The original Howard's End was, by the way, a book I much enjoyed. And have I ever mentioned that I truly love P.G. Wodehouse and Roald Dahl?

  6. Barbara, I'm so pleased to have 'introduced' you to this wonderful book!

    Carole, was it you who first told me about the Apple Tree book?? I ordered it a couple years back and have a lovely used copy waiting on the shelf. I've had that feeling about her fiction from reading a few reviews. I don't think it is for me.

  7. I'm so glad that you loved this book. I've not gotten it yet as I'm not sure I will be as enthusiastic. Probably should check it out of the library. However, perhaps one day soon.

    Love your new library arrangement and I also love your new header picture. I think that says that Nan and Tom are heading toward outdoor living (or as much of that as you get). :-)

    By the way, have you read Susan Hill's myster series? I think I started the first one at one point and then somehow it just didn't work for me. I always meant to try it again. Also, have you read THE WOMAN IN BLACK (think that's the title) that she also wrote. They are filming it and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) stars in it.

  8. Librarian, I think I knew about PGW, but not Dahl. I really ought to reread him. My favorite, favorite is Danny The Champion of the World. I love that father-son relationship, and that caravan which I've read is based on one RD had in his back yard!

    Kay, yes, the weather has been lovely for sitting out, and for gardening. I haven't read any of her fiction. It didn't sound appealing to me, though I should look into the mystery ones. I really don't like ghost stories though. :<) I'm not sure if you would care for the book or not. Not much about mysteries, very, very British - of course right up my alley (or street as they say over there).

  9. I seriously feel like I need to buy a copy of this one. I was really interested in what she had to say about the YA books and realized she's so true..all that stuff will come in its own time for sure. There needs to more of a balance. I loved this post..thank you!

  10. Gosh, thanks Staci! It is such a good book.

  11. I love books about books, and have been checking the library catalog periodically ever since this one was released. Still no copies in the system. Looks like I'll just have to buy a copy... great review, Nan!

  12. Thanks, JoAnn! Does your library offer Inter Library Loan? That's how I got my copy.

  13. I envy Susan Hill (and you) your book-filled rooms! (Ah, the life I did not lead!). I was waiting for the last line in your post -- knew you'd have to own this book! (I would if I were you!) I share your love of British writers and the paragraph you quoted was priceless.

    I completely agree with her thoughts about YA books and raising children.

    I will look for the book (at the library, to read in my not book filled RV).... and also I must read Howard's End. I think that one is going on my Kindle right now as soon as I send this. NOt sure how I've missed that book.

  14. I get lots of books through inter-library loan. The system has 43 libraries, so it's hard to believe none of them have it. I may just have to put in a purchase request :-)

  15. Your chair and new lamp look so inviting. I can see you there enjoying all your books. I also think your porch looks inviting. I could see you there with a cup of tea and a good book. Or a round of cocktails to discuss books with friends. I'll be right over. ;)

  16. I have read such wonderful reviews of Howards End is on the Landing, yours being the best, Nan, and appreciate the quotes you place here.

    I love books and I love books about books. I can just imagine you sitting in your lovely chair, surrounding by your friends, your books of course, and reading this book. Your copy sits so perfectly near your own copies and I giggle, because, this is something I would do.

    Howard's End is a favorite of mine - and I love the movie as well. Sigh.

  17. I forgot to say that I absolutely understand that this armchair is your favourite one - it looks so inviting, cosy and just the perfect place to retreat to with a book, especially the way you have placed it between the reading lamp and the shelves. Thank you for showing us this place that is so dear to you!

  18. I love your blog and have missed coming here. I must do so more often. This is a book I had not heard about and I will be ordering it soon. It sounds like something I would enjoy reading -- and having on my shelf.

    It is so discouraging, at times, this Kindle world we live in. I am glad to have my books and always will be.

    Best from KY! (and howdy to NH)


  19. Thank you, Nan. This sounds like a book I must read. I'm off to the library tomorrow. I love your blog and finding books that I know I will enjoy.

  20. Well, here I am, yin to Nan's yang. I didn't even know there was a Gerald Durrell until last year, but I've worn out completely three copies of The Alexandria Quartet. If forced to a desert, or an island, or a desert island for that matter, and limited to one work, that might be it.

    Wonderful review, that makes me want to read Howard's End - and Gerald!

  21. Sallie, on the other hand, I don't get to travel! Howards End and A Room with a View came together on the Kindle - very inexpensive, too.

    JoAnn, our ILL works all over the country, I think. Sometimes they'll come from in-state, but I've gotten books from all over.

    Wish you could, Lisa. Actually I don't have many 'real life' friends with whom I talk books.

    What a nice, nice thing to say, Penny. Thanks! 'Friends' is just the right word.

    And I thank you, Librarian!

    So very nice to hear from you, Catherine! You will love this book, I think.

    Thanks for your nice words, Commonweeder!

    Shoreacres, your comment made me smile. THREE copies! Wow. I really should read TAQ again. I was probably 27 when I last read it, maybe even younger. But there are still descriptions that I recall. Sometimes I'll see evening light on brick and think of this book. I'm still amazed at 3 copies. It makes me want to reread it sooner than later. Thanks.

  22. What a most excellent and enjoyable review Nan, I've noticed mentions of this book but never felt a pull to read it I really do.

    I too love Durrell & Wodehouse & enjoy Dahl ..though he I am ambivalent about.. as his books for children have an edge to them which stretches my comfort zone..of course they love them :0)

    I'm not passionate about VW but I do find her work and world fascinating..My mind has to be in a nimble mood when I read her books as they are rather stretching reads for me(does that make sense)

    The quote about Issue books has so much truth to it..we live in a World that can be hard for grownups to cope with grow up safely and happily and develop good roots seems to me the best start we can give them.

    My older daughters book teddy is the Boxcar Children and I really don't blame her :0)

    sorry this is so long I only meant to say THANK YOU!

  23. Oh my gosh, Val, never apologize for a long comment! I love long replies - it feels like real conversation, which to me is the best thing about blogging.
    Have you read Dahl's, Danny the Champion of the World? There is a wonderful relationship between father and son. You might want to read it first to see if it is too old for your girls. I wish the old PBS show was available on dvd which starred Jeremy Irons and his son. It was so wonderful.
    The Boxcar Children series was a big hit in this house, for me as well as the kids.
    Thanks for your kind words about the post.

  24. Nan I love your book reviews. I can relate to so much you share.
    My home is filled with books. Then so many I have given away and donated to library. Keep my favorites. Books are always gifts to my children and grandchildren.
    Pleased me so when my granddaughter's in their early 20's
    on a recent visit were picking out a book and reading.

  25. Thanks so much, Ernestine. Isn't that just wonderful about your granddaughters. Such a joy!

  26. It's been a busy week and I'm just getting back to visiting your blog. Your header looks so lovely and I'm glad you're able to get outside once again.

    I love Howard's End (the film) but have not yet read the book. I will have to do so this summer!

    Lovely review, as always!

  27. Thank you, Les! I so loved this book.

  28. A terrific post about a terrific book.I've read this and loved it too, Nan. A wonderful book. I am one who does like books about books and this was one of the best.

  29. Yvette, wasn't it just terrific!

  30. Your reading corner is SO inviting. I'm going to jot down the Susan Hill title and track it down. It sounds most interesting to me. The trouble is, it looks like the kind I'd like to underline in or put notes in the margins--can't DO that with a library book....

  31. I've read so much about this book, I clearly need to read the book itself! I'm glad you enjoyed it so much -- it sounds great.

  32. Sounds like my kind of book! I'm going to go order it right now. I, too, love all things English. One of my secret dreams is to live there for a few months in a thatched cottage in a small village and write.

  33. Rebecca, Dorothy, and Debbie, it's a really wonderful book.


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