This has to be the prettiest cover and best title of the year. I was pleasantly surprised, too, that it’s not a massive tome but neatly sized, easy to hold and read. It’s far more autobiographical and less bookish than I expected and could be subtitled ‘Famous writers I have known.’ Following Susan Hill around her lovely old house as she plucked a book from a shelf here, removed a clutch from a table there and mused upon them, I found myself conducting a one-sided conversation with her along these lines:
‘Ooh, I have a childhood Bookano, too! ... I see you love Dickens as much as I do and I agree with you about Pickwick but how could you dismiss David Copperfield like that? ... You don’t like Jane Austen?! Bad luck. … The Bonfire of the Vanities really is terrific, you know, give it a try … I’m so jealous that you knew Kingsley Amis and I agree with you about Martin A, London Fields is awfully good … Why do you think Lucky Jim is only for young men? Wrong, Madam … You are not convincing me I want to read W G Sebald …’ and so on.
Howards End is on the Landing is an odd, bitty book: lit crit (though I don’t think Susan would call it that) mixed with Luddite opinions on book-related matters. I can’t agree that sites like Library Thing are ‘infernal engines’; they seem quite useful to me, although I’m not on any myself. I’m a great one for the paperback you can stuff in a Barbour pocket but I’d still rather like a Kindle or other eReader. They may be horrible lumps of plastic but look how many books you can store on them and how useful that could be for someone in hospital, for instance. Then, not many of her readers will be on first name terms with 'Paddy' Leigh Fermor or the Duchess of Devonshire and may care little for anecdotes about them.
I have to say I found some longeurs and yawned through sections on Penelope Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Bowen, Iris Murdoch, Barbara Pym, David Cecil and other people I don’t much admire myself. I’d also have liked an index. I have several 'books about books' on my wish list, such as Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris. One I have read and enjoyed very much is Nick Hornby’s The Complete Polysyllabic Spree. Curious that I'm about half way in age between Susan Hill and Nick Hornby yet feel more in tune with the younger person!