"I love the book. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the compactness of it, the shape, the size. I love the feel of paper. The sound it makes when I turn a page. I love the beauty of print on paper, the patterns, the shapes, the fonts. I am astonished by the versatility and practicality of The Book. It is so simple. It is so fit for its purpose. It may give me mere content, but no e-reader will ever give me that sort of added pleasure."
And there you have it for me. But not for everyone. Howard's End is on the Landing has been blogged about so extensively that I paused before posting about it, but chose to because I enjoyed it so much. And want to contrast my experience with those that did not find it the little gem of a read that I did.
Susan Hill, author and publisher of some fame, decided to write a memoir of sorts about "a year of reading from home," a year without new book purchases where the reading material would be culled from her own shelves. The book is divided into short chapters about the reading directions the year followed, and includes many stories of her personal interactions with authors of note. The majority of the material discussed is in fact re-reads, a point of criticism for some, but an experience that I envy and that is working its way into my head as I decide what the new year might bring to my reading life.
A read as personal as this one will find its most welcoming audience amongst those of similar literary tastes whose reading life has followed a similar path. For me, there were enough loves shared here (Virginia Woolf, pop-up books, picture books, Wodehouse, Trollope, Dickens, Murdoch and all the poetry plus more) that Hill's attentions to authors and books with which I was not as familiar inspired an interest in me to try them as I by then trusted her taste because of the number of likes we held in common. I could even forgive her that reluctance to read Proust.
Also loved the meandering nature of the book. I could imagine Hill wandering through her home looking through her randomly shelved books for nothing in particular, and being struck by points of interest as letters and notes long-forgotten or misplaced fell from between pages. As memories from a bookishly privileged past stopped by for a visit. Some took exception to her lack of a clearly delineated plan, and craved a more explicit view of the year's reading experience. A list at the beginning was desired instead of a list arrived at by year's end as Hill realizes that she wishes she had more time to indulge her reading experiment. However, I have a high threshold for chaos. I also do not organize my books in any particular order, and casually re-meet them from time to time in unexpected places. I tend to not make lists. And tend to engage in a stream-of-consciousness game of associations from one text to another.
The chapter that brought me the most satisfaction, "Slow, Slow, Slow-Slow, Slow," has also been a point of contention among book bloggers as Hill expresses concern over what she calls a "strange competitiveness" amongst our set to consume as many as twenty books a week as if the activity is a competition, its results to be recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records. She believes:
"The best books deserve better. Everything I am reading during this year has so much to yield but only if I give it my full attention and respect it by reading slowly. Fast reading of a great novel will get us the plot. It will get us names, a shadowy idea of characters, a sketch of settings. It will not get us subtleties, small differentiations, depth of emotion and observation, multilayered human experience, the appreciation of simile and metaphor, any sense of context, any comparison with other novels, other writers. Fast reading will not get us cadence and complexities of style and language. It will not get us anything that enters not just the conscious mind but the unconscious. It will not allow the book to burrow down into our memory and become part of ourselves, the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom and vicarious experience which helps to form us as complete human beings. It will not develop our awareness or add to the sum of our knowledge and intelligence. Read parts of a newspaper quickly or an encyclopedia entry, or a fast-food thriller, but do not insult yourself or a book which has been created with its author's painstakingly acquired skill and effort, by seeing how fast you can dispose of it."
Ouch. A wee bit high-handed. But I am buying it. And re-evaluating my own habits as a result.
The beauty of the book blogoshere is the diversity of opinion. Where would all that amusing, diverting, engaging sparkly conversation come from if it were not for our willingness to disagree... respectfully. I enjoyed the thoughts of all those who felt this book a disappointing sell-out with a great cover. But I really enjoyed it. The perfect small read for the holiday small moments in which we sneak in our reading. Reminding me of family around me and family now gone who read and failed to organize that reading life much in the same way that Hill does (or does not). Not challenging. But charming.