The pleasure of curling up with a good book about the pleasures of curling up with a good book
Susan Hill’s book about her books and the profound nature of the reading experience is unalloyed JOY. The premise is simple, she searches for a book from her shelves which she can’t find, gets lured by the contents of those shelves, and decides to explore her bookshelves more deeply; this sparks her to write a book about the experience.
This is much, much more than one of those dreary ‘list’ books – books you should read before you die, top classics etc etc. She spins off into a relationship with reading itself, and also some of her favourite books take her into accounts of writers she has met.
She did attract some reviews which commented negatively that the book is just ‘name dropping’ It doesn’t come across like that to THIS reader. Hill is a writer who had her first book published aged 18. She’s been fortunate to have mingled with literary life, and, personally, accounts of her brief meetings with, for example, such a wide range of ‘different greats’ as Edith Sitwell, Ian Fleming and even Benjamin Britten are utterly fascinating.
She’s an eclectic, unsnobby quirky reader – and I guess that’s why I find her appealing – someone who is as at home with Ian Fleming as they are with the book of Common Prayer, Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll and Trollope (Anthony) as well as Victorian diarists but NOT Jane Austen is an interesting mind.
Though I don’t share her discomfort with Jane I found her Austen immunity interesting.
There are also chapters extolling favourite reading places, the physical experience of reading, the pleasure of fonts, dustjackets and bindings, and, constantly poking through, a sense of books as mysterious, totemic objects with perhaps a secret life of their own…….she muses about which books might be happy or unhappy to be sitting next to its booky neighbour. Magic realism!
A charm (literally!) and an utter delight.
And maybe the subtitle ‘A Year Of Reading From Home’, just MIGHT be a piece of useful advice for myself (and compatriot bookiephiles) as i gaze in horror on the huge and mounting wobbly piles of unread books (often added to following squints to see what others are reading) which exist on chairs, bookcases and of course, almost invisibly and therefore more dangerously, on the Kindle. With the unread Kindles at 86, and the piles on the chairs (never mind elsewhere) at 40 plus I reckon that if I DID manage Hill’s ‘only read what you have at home’ that could comfortably see me through the year, and if it didn’t, well the pleasure of re-reads would be there. Will I do this? Unlikely, dear reader, unlikely. Maybe if no bookie bloggers read or blog about their reading, if Amazon reviews all vanish, if I wear a sign saying DO NOT TALK TO ME ABOUT BOOKS around my neck, if I never pick up a newspaper or magazine which has book reviews, hear or watch any programme about writing, writers etc. I probably need casting away on a desert island with only the unread books, no internet access, and helicopter drops of food parcels. Ah well. I’ll happily re-read Hill again!