On Friday Becca (whom you will know as Oxford Reader) and I took a trip to Abingdon, to hear Susan Hill talk about Howards End is on the Landing. Anybody who has even glanced at book blogs over the past month or so will have heard about this non-fiction book, where Susan Hill goes through her bookshelves and reacquaints herself with books long-loved, never read, forgotten, or which have mysteriously appeared from nowhere. Reviews have been at both ends of the spectrum, and most places in between, but I’m a firm enthusiast – it’s still prime candidate for my favourite book of 2009, and I waved my pom-poms for it here.
Susan Hill started off by, as she recognised, preaching to the converted – as regards the book industry. HEiotL makes it clear that Hill has no personal desire for an eReader or similar – and while she doesn’t mind other people having them, she (like all of us) is horrified at the suggestion that books will consequently become obsolete. I’m certain that this won’t happen, the Death of the Book has been predicted more or less since the book was invented, but I do worry that bookshops will have to close, and all transactions will have to take place online. Most of Susan Hill’s audience were not, shall we say, in the first half of their lives – so the responsibility lies with the younger generation! What a great way to persuade myself that I need to buy more books.
At each of the different events where Suan Hill has spoken, she’s apparently chosen different bits to read from Howards End is on the Landing. At our event, she read two extracts which demonstrate the book’s scope in tone – one about Roald Dahl, one about Iris Murdoch. That she has known both these people (and shared a doorstep with TS Eliot) is quite something in itself – and she has turned both acquaintances into very different chapters. Her tales of working with Roald Dahl on judging panels were hilarious; her memories of meeting Iris Murdoch before and during her dementia brought a tear to my eye.
Susan Hill – both in this book and on her blog – isn’t shy of an opinion, like any good Yorkshirewoman. What I’d forgotten, when I went to see her talk, was that this would come with a Yorkshirewoman’s warmth and wit. It was a lovely evening, enhanced by seeing Annabel (aka Gaskella) again, and a completely unexpected bumping-into Margaret (aka Books Please). If you click on those links, it’ll take you to their blog posts about the evening, as they’ve been quicker off the mark than me…