One thing most bibliophiles love is books about books and Howards End Is On The Landing is one of the best I've read. British author Susan Hill decides to spend a year rediscovering and rereading the books she already owns, and Howards End documents her thoughts during this period. Loosely organised into short chapters, it is a manifesto for reading for total pleasure and for reading without any guilt or pressure. Susan Hill believes you should read what you want to, when you want to.
This book will only appeal to certain kinds of readers. If you are a very organised reader who always has a list of what is going to be read when and perfectly alphabetised shelves, this probably isn't the book for you. In fact, the rambling style will almost certainly put you off. But if you are more of a spur of the moment reader, you'll find yourself nodding your head to many of the points Susan raises.
A lot of themes of the book seemed to coincide with things that we as book bloggers think and worry about. Hill cautions against getting caught up by new releases, against not taking the time to reread favourites and worries about the rise of e-readers. My favourite part was when she writes about people who want to read as many books as they can in the shortest possible amount of time;
"A strange competitiveness has emerged among some readers in the last few years. I have known book-bloggers boast of getting through twenty books plus a week, as if they were trying for a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. Why has reading turned into a form of speed dating?"
I think most of us (myself included) are guilty of that a little bit, the urge and pressure to read as much as you can so as to always have new content up on our blogs. Howards End is a gentle reminder of why we like reading in the first place and to not change our reading habits too much. It was a timely reminder for me, as I can get so caught up in review deadlines and new releases that I forget to both read the books I want to read, and reread the ones I loved. I used to do that all the time before I started blogging.
Much like the arguments it is making, the book is written in an unorganised, quite rambling style. It comes across as Hill writing down her thoughts about reading as and when they strike her. This took me quite a while to get used to, but I definitely appreciated the laid back approach by the end. But this may not work for anyone - if you like clear structure, this isn't the book for you. The only other thing that was hard for me was that many of the books Hill refers to are not popular now, meaning I couldn't always relate to the stories of her reading. But this didn't bother me too much, as the arguments of the book were so clear.
Verdict: A well written, persuasive manifesto for reading without restriction.
First published: 2009
Score: 4 out of 5