Well I think I've already committed several cardinal sins according to the gospel of Susan Hill's latest book, a memoir of her reading life, Howards End is on the Landing.
- I've stamped my name in the front of the book, I do it inside every book I write about on here.
- I've read the book in three days.
- It will go in a place on my shelves especially reserved for books about books and reading.
- I will always know where to find it.
Plus point in my favour that may well negate those sins of commission is that I have scribbled all over it and that is very much the done thing.
First things very much first though and I think we do have to drink in the beauty of that cover yet again before we turn the first page. I did for at least a week, this one is going to look stunning in the bookshops.
Slowly the books bought and not read also reveal themselves and the decision is made to take a year out from the book-buying habit, leave off all but essential internet use for a while, hunker down and revisit all those old favourites in a bid to rediscover those past pleasures.
Well I'm green with envy at the decision already...my willpower to turn my back on the world of contemporary fiction is almost non-existent. I'm in the midst of a post-Booker reactionary phase but it won't last too long, that I know.
Susan's list of literary encounters is a Who's Who of the latter half of the twentieth century literary scene and the names are legion from those days when initials said plenty, C.P.Snow, T.S.Eliot, E.M.Forster, W.H.Auden and V.S.Naipaul and alongside the likes of Ian Fleming spied across the room at a party sporting
'the craggy remains of such mesmerising good looks'.
There are some deeply moving encounters too.
Iris Murdoch tragically diminished by her final illness looking with 'troubled, puzzled eyes'.
Elizabeth Bowen met and known through a correspondence.
Arnold Wesker, for whose children a young Susan had been the babysitter.
Roald Dahl grumpy but with reason it would seem.
Susan receiving awards on behalf of a frail and ageing Charles Causley, 'never vain, never anything but young in heart and spirit', by all accounts a very lovely man.
Even I would have braved a trip to the Venom Clinic where Susan happened to be waiting just as Bruce Chatwin was wheeled past, his adonis-like features and piercing blue eyes still just evident in his AIDS-ravaged frame.
These but a handful of the literary meetings recalled and recounted that make reading this book such a complete pleasure. There is something about having these legendary authors placed in the real world like this, observed about their daily round, that brings the book vibrantly to life.
Along the way wonderful personal observations about a childhood steeped in libraries, books and poetry, school detentions and loving the poetry learnt by heart meted out as punishment, reading habits establishing a reading life that may well continue to induce that state of greenish envy.
Envy if like me you think you may have also loved to have spent a life writing and being immersed in books and publishing, and somehow a different path mapped itself out for you. Susan carved hers out successfully from a very early age with a dedication and commitment that I personally think has kept her at the top of her writing game ever since. We do chat on the phone occasionally so I'm always careful to tell Susan that a new book is showing promise and that she must stick at this because it will come good for her one day, but that's only because we can't have authors getting too big for their boots and because I do know she has a well-honed sense of humour. Susan's books have been earning their place on my shelves for many years and I suspect at least one of them would make it into my Final Forty.
The Final Forty, the books that Susan eventually decides she can't live without, make for an eclectic list and what a challenge it would be to read them all. I suspect the online list that starts doing that can't be far off and there's an irony to that suggestion now I think about it with the gestation of Howards End is on the Landing during Susan's reduced-internet year.
I've only read about fourteen of them and unwittingly had several lined up, Elizabeth Bowen shot across my radar on that recent trip to Cambridge and Susan offers plenty of good reasons for readers to explore much more of her list.
Published in a fortnight or so, Susan will be talking about the book at the Cheltenham Literary Festival on October 14th and will be seated in the dovegreyreader asks...virtual armchair soon too.
Tomorrow we divert to Middlebrow-a-Month day, but more thoughts on Thursday because of course I had the Howards End is on the Landing Walk to think about it all some more.