A year of reading old books

Someday, I want to do what Susan Hill did. She relied on the riches of her own library for a year and didn’t read any new books. 

This wasn’t a whim. When searching for a specific book on her bookshelves one day, she discovered many books in her library she hadn’t read, or that she had read but forgot she owned. She also discovered books she wanted to re-read. And so Susan Hill, a distinguished British author, embarked on a reading journey and then wrote a book about it: Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home, a paperback edition, hits bookstores November 1, 2010.

That’s the date of the U.S. publication. Howards End Is on the Landing was published a year ago in the U.K. The Telegraph praised the book and said: “[Hill] is unrepentant about her prejudice against Australian and Canadian writing and will surprise many by her dismissal of Jane Austen. Her final list of 40 indispensable books [‘I think I could manage with alone, for the rest of my life’] should provoke debate and, hopefully, attract new readers for F. M. Mayor’s long-neglected The Rector’s Daughter, for which she is an eloquent advocate.”

You can read the introduction of Hill’s new book on the website of The Guardian, which describes the book as “charming.” It also says, “Trollope and Wodehouse have two titles each on the list, which tells us something about Hill’s tastes, as does the absence of any European authors. What we are left with is a mind-map of a novelist in her late 60s who has spent her life reading and writing books.”

Books about books don’t tend to hit my reading table, but the exceptions — my favorite, Michael Dirda’s Classics for Pleasure — become rich resources for undiscovered authors and books. An example in point is F. M. Mayor’s The Rector’s Daughter, mentioned above, published by Virago Modern Classics.  Hill’s list of 40 now has my interest.

Note to book collectors: You’ll want to get your hands on the first printing of the first U.K. edition of this book. It was printed with a serious error that was caught before publication. The book went into a second printing immediately, without the error.

8 thoughts on “A year of reading old books

  1. Hi Kassie,
    Thanks for bringing this one to our attention. I love the concept and Susan Hill’s version of it sounds particularly well done. (I also love the title!)
    I agree with you that the 1st “issue” with the typo would be the copy to buy ….. but have to confess that my first reaction was to search vialibri.com for a first of “The Rector’s Daughter!” No copy of the original Hogarth Press printing online – only the several modern reprints. Now, that would be a book to track down!
    Best,
    Ed

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  2. “She relied on the riches of her own library for a year” I don’t think I could get through the books stacked by various chairs in a year. I need to quit my day job.

    But a year reading Trollope and Wodehouse? Uncle Fred at Barsetshire? I’m in!!!

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  3. Kassie,

    The closer the stacks of books in my study get to the ceiling, the closer I theoretically get to retiring from bookselling, though I doubt that day will ever arrive. But I can’t help but imagine what retirement would be like — Ms. Hill’s year plus plus. Frankly, if I stopped acquiring books today, I might never read all the delights in my library before I die, unless I lived a verrrrry long life.

    George

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  4. Hi Kassie,

    I like the idea of reading only what is owned. I also have begun a long journey of trying to read books that have won the Pulitzer, Booker, or National book awards. I have a list that hangs by my computer. I will never get through them all, but I feel it is a good starting point or reference. I still have many non-fiction books to read that have been acquired by Kevin about ethics, philosophy and theology. Just can’t seem to go there often! Martha

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  5. Hi Martha,

    What a great journey. I love the idea of the list next to your computer.

    I have it in mind to read the full list of Pulitzer fiction winners. A few years ago, when I was working on the WOSU Ohioana Authors show, I did a piece on Josephine Johnson, an Ohio author who won the Pulitzer for “Now in November.” I’d never heard of the novel, or of her, and was quite taken with the Willa Cather-like story and the beautiful writing. There are so many Pulitzers probably like that, from the 1940s and 1950s. I suppose I could gradually acquire old copies in a collection and have them at the ready for when I read only the books in my library!

    Kevin’s library sounds awesome. When you do dip into it, I bet the selections are some of the best.

    Kassie

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