Sunday, July 15, 2018

Jacob's Room is Full of Books - June

The only mention of the natural world in the June entry of Susan Hill's Jacob's Room is Full of Books is that she goes to France for a month every year, sometimes in June and sometimes in September. When she goes in June, she misses the irises and the peonies, "but June is the best month in France." She doesn't offer much description except to mention the roses and swifts. And the wild boar which are "menacing then because they have young." One year she hit one on the road. To me, these are among the world's worst creatures. They did not originate here but were introduced in the 1500s. You may read more here, if you really want to!

The rest of her month is devoted to a variety of interesting subjects. She begins with literary prizes.
It ill behooves me to complain that there are too many book prizes, having won some in my early career. They came at just the right time, they were lifesavers in terms of the money, but more - they gave me confidence that I was right all along. They were recognition. And they are there. No one can take them away. Forty-five years later, they still count.
So I can't complain. But every year the prizes proliferate and every year, a few of them at least come to mean less - particularly the lucrative prizes for the best short story of the year. £20K or £30K for one story? These almost always go to unknowns who may have written a single stunning story and then vanish without trace. The point about book prizes is partly to give the recipient's career a boost, to provide time and financial support for them to climb the next rung of the ladder.
Such an interesting section because she has been both a winner and a judge so she has a unique outlook on the whole business.

Susan goes on to talk about "lit fests." Have you ever been to one? I wonder if they are similar to the various mystery conventions we have in the US. Anyway, she says the large ones
get large sponsorship, from newspapers or TV companies or local magnates with deep pockets and cultural aspirations. Small ones survive on volunteers and goodwill. Often they cannot pay authors, in which case the authors have to decide whether the gig is worth their while.
But the joy of the lit fest is meeting with people who come to say they have always loved your books, or that this one has meant much to them, or that one kicked off their teenager's love of reading, or was their late mother's favorite ...  I asked the organiser of one small book festival why they didn't apply for Arts Council or area arts funding. They had. They were turned down because lit fests are, apparently, too middle class.
Completely fascinating.

She has a personal slant on Edward VIII, who became the Duke of Windsor, and Wallis Simpson. They are an endlessly interesting subject to so many people, and I loved reading what Susan Hill had to say.

She offers The Old Shepherd's Prayer by Charlotte Mew which brought tears to my eyes.
Heavenly Master, I wud like to wake to they same green places
Where I be know'd for breakin' dogs and follerin' sheep.
And if I may not walk in th' old ways and look on th' old faces
I wud sooner sleep.
Susan Hill ends the month with three cautionary tales, two of them concerned with social media and the other with bullying. Lives were changed. A doctor was
tricked and betrayed by her fellow partners, maligned and undermined by a process of passive-aggressive bullying, to the extent that she was forced to resign and lost her confidence as a doctor. ... It broke her, and when she was exonerated and proven innocent of all the trumped-up charges, it was too late. The damage was done.
She took early retirement and has not worked since.

The other two instances, one involving the author herself, were horrendous examples of the dangers inherent in bullying on a huge scale via the internet. Very upsetting.

I am so enjoying this book. Honestly Susan Hill knows so much about so many things that I read her with awe.


  1. I read her with awe too, Nan. So wise, so much good sense. Loving your monthly posts on this book.

  2. Nan, I'm so happy that you led me first to her Howard's End Is.. book and then recently to this one. I'm trying not to jump ahead a month but I did start at the beginning and catch up to current. And I've begun her Magic Apple Tree book too.

    The strange thing is that she kept feeling so familiar to me and I started search my books, nothing there, then my Christmas books and found her 1998 Christmas book Lanterns Across the Snow that I got years ago from A Common Reader. The book is a lovely cloth purple and comes in a beautiful red slipper box.

    I've never read her mystery books, have you? I'm kind of a sissy when it comes to mystery books anymore, not into gore at all.

    Nashville has a book festival each year but I haven't been in years. I used to love going.

    I remember reading with interest what Hill had to say about the Duke of Windsor. Don't ask me what it was about now though! Senior memory is my excuse, or else because most of my reading these days is done before bed.

    1. I do mean to read The Magic Apple Tree, too. And maybe sometime at the same time as a Gladys book which I had planned to do a few years ago. I've never read anything by her except the the books about books. I'll look for the Christmas one. I do read mysteries but not creepy, gory ones. Can't take it.

  3. Loving your header photo! I wonder if I'll get a copy of this book before you get to the end of it. It might appear around Christmas ...

  4. I've read all of her Simon Serrailler mysteries that have been published so far (a new one this fall - yay!). They are not particularly gory as I recall, but being crime novels, they do include death and crime. She has annoyed some mystery readers with including so much of her personal philosophies in her crime fiction (not me, but some). I listened to most of them on audio and that was a good way to experience them. I enjoy hearing about these other books too!

    1. I should try the first in the series. I suppose most writers put their own thoughts into their fiction books. Alexander McCall Smith is probably the best example I know of. How do you know this about readers being annoyed?

    2. By either reading their reviews or by their comments regarding their reading experience when I did reviews. As I remember anyway. Ha!

    3. Very interesting. I wonder if readers feel that about other writers putting their own thoughts into characters.

  5. I must read this book, Nan. Susan Hill is an amazing writer and observer, too. I loved The Magic Apple Tree, and have re-read it several times. It's another book I had given my mother and now own. The Woman in Black is another book I own by Susan Hill - it is so good, but so chilling. Don't read it when you're alone - ha,ha.
    How I love your blog!

    1. Aren't you so very nice to say this, Mary. It means the world to me. I don't think I will be reading TWiB. I get scared pretty easily, and stories/movies that scared me stay with me! I do own TMAT, and hope to read it soon.


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