Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Reading from home

Recently I started reading Susan Hill's 2009 book Howard's End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home. I can see immediately that Hill is going to inspire a lot of reflection on books and reading, so I propose to take her book slowly and use it as a springboard for commentary on this blog over the next few weeks.

I will start with Hill's reason for writing her book in the first place. Looking for one particular book in her home, she found many other books instead. Some she realized she had owned for years but had never read. Others she had read years ago and decided it was time to revisit. She resolved to give up purchasing any new books for a whole year and devote her reading to books she already owned. What follows is a series of short essays about these books and about her reading life, both past and present.

Novelist Susan Hill is a contemporary of mine, just a couple of years older,. At about the same point in life when she decided to focus more attention on her personal library, I was doing much the same thing. I have not taken the step of swearing off new books as Hill did. If anything, I have increased the number of book purchases in recent years. But rarely, except in the case of books sent to me to review, do I ever begin reading a book immediately after acquiring it. Usually I let it age on the shelf for a few years, sometimes 20 years or more. So in one sense I have always been doing what Hill did for her book.

More recently, however, I have been rereading more books I enjoyed a number of years before. This hasn't seemed to decrease my reading of first-time books because, since retirement, I have been able to devote more time for reading. So I have revisited Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote and Jesse Stuart's The Land Beyond the River, among several other books.  Not only have I enjoyed these books a second time, but it has made me feel justified in keeping them for all these years. Some people like to ask, "Why keep books you have already read?" Well, this is why. (Another reason, of course, is reference.)

Thanks to my membership on LibraryThing, I have also, like Hill, spent a lot of time reconsidering every book in my library in the act of cataloging them all for the website. Quite a number of them I decided I really didn't want any more, so I was able to open up some shelf space. Other books surprised me because I had forgotten I even had them. Many books, once I held them in my hands, made me want to open them and start reading again.

I think I am going to like reading about reading in Susan Hill's book.

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