Probably on his landing too


I’ve been rereading Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill, and thought it was amusing that the author of Howards End himself had this to say about his personal library (from Two Cheers For Democracy by E.M. Forster):

I have never been a collector, and as for the first edition craze, I place it next door to stamp collecting – I can say no less. It is non-adult and exposes the book-lover to all sorts of nonsense at the hands of the book-dealer. One should never tempt book-dealers. I am myself a lover of the interiors of books, of the words in them – an uncut book is about as inspiriting as a corked up bottle of wine – and much as I enjoy good print and good binding and old volumes they remain subsidiary to the words: words, the wine of life. This view of mine is, I am convinced, the correct one, but even correctness has had its disadvantages and I am bound to admit that my library, so far as I have created it, is rather a muddle. Here’s one sort of book, there’s another, and there is not enough of any sort of book to strike a dominant note. Books about India and by Indians, modern poetry, ancient history, American novels, travel books, books on the state of the world, and on the world-state, books on individual liberty, art-albums, Dante and book about him – they tend to swamp each other, not to mention the usual pond of pamphlets which has to be drained off periodically. The absence of the collector’s instinct in me, the absence of deliberate choice, have combined with a commendable variety of interests to evolve a library which will not make any definite impression upon visitors. (1949)

10 thoughts on “Probably on his landing too

  • August 18, 2010 at 7:08 am
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    very funny – I am particuarly tickled by the line "this view of mine I am convinced is the correct one"!

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  • August 18, 2010 at 7:15 am
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    I wonder whether he had to secrete his favourite '2nd copies' of certain books behind the others so that nobody else in the house took it upon themselves to throw them away – as you 'only need one copy, dear.'

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  • August 18, 2010 at 10:38 am
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    It is so much fun to read this post. I am going to share this to my friends and I am sure that they will enjoy reading this.

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  • August 18, 2010 at 11:54 am
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    I ADORE E.M Forster – and I am so pleased to hear that his library is muddled as well, very reassuring!

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  • August 18, 2010 at 1:14 pm
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    How comforting to know that a "disorganized" library can be found even among the famous. :) HEIOTL is one of my very favorite books of all time. It's just so relaxing to read. (And, it has one of the best covers ever imho.)

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  • August 18, 2010 at 1:43 pm
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    can imagine his library been a bit manic,the hill book was a favourite of mine last year ,all the best stu

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  • August 19, 2010 at 6:45 pm
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    I love that insight! We shouldn't tempt book-dealers, it is true, but I am feeling a certain magnetic pull escaping from beautifully bound matching books… and illustrations… and nostalgic reading. I nearly bought the entire Famous Five set again this week, solely so I would have a complete collection of the old pen and ink drawings from the couple of books my mum has left over from her childhood. That doesn't even strike me as odd, just impractical to get home.

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  • August 19, 2010 at 6:45 pm
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    I love that insight! We shouldn't tempt book-dealers, it is true, but I am feeling a certain magnetic pull escaping from beautifully bound matching books… and illustrations… and nostalgic reading. I nearly bought the entire Famous Five set again this week, solely so I would have a complete collection of the old pen and ink drawings from the couple of books my mum has left over from her childhood. That doesn't even strike me as odd, just impractical to get home.

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  • August 25, 2010 at 8:44 am
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    Hannah – I love that line too! I have never found his novels (well, the two that I've read) particularly funny, so liked the touch of humour in his essays.

    Mum – hush! Dad might be listening!

    babycribs – why, thank you.

    Naomi – we'll have to sit down and you'll have to convince me why he's great! (Although we could just wait til Book Group read Howards End in January)

    Susan – agreed on all counts! My favourite cover, my favourite book last year, destined to be one I re-read every year, I think.

    Stu – I loved HEiotL so much, and am loving my current reread! I can't decide whether I want my own books to be manic or organised… at the moment it is somewhere between the two.

    Debs – you definitely should have bought the Famous Five books! But very fine books just scare me – like those expensive antiquarian bookshops which look like they've got books for buying and putting in vaults…

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  • August 31, 2010 at 3:18 pm
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    I love, love, love this! And I feel the same way. I recently read a book about a guy who steals old books and doesn't even read them. Apparently that isn't uncommon among collectors. I must buy Two Cheers For Democracy now. Thank you, Simon!

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