I often hold small committee meetings in my living room; eight is the maximum attendance. Thatâ€™s not because it is a particularly small room, but because it is lined on all sides with bookcases (excepting the doors and window), so the useful dimensions are significantly reduced.
Itâ€™s probably a good job I donâ€™t have a rambling farmhouse like Susan Hillâ€™s or like her, Iâ€™d have stuffed it full of books. Yet sheâ€™s come up, in Howardâ€™s End is on the Landing, a good idea as a result of that cornucopia â€“ she set herself the task over a year of, if not rereading them all, then certainly revisiting them.
The result is a meandering, pleasant read â€“ a wander through possibilities, for, she says â€śA book which is left on the shelf is a dead thing but it is also a chrysalis, an inanimate object packed with the potential to burst into new life.
I found it delightful and evocative, despite the fact that â€“ the honorable exception of Dorothy L. Sayers and the other women writers of the Great Age of the English detective novel aside (and a small diversion into Elizabethan plays) â€“ thereâ€™s very little cross-over between our libraries.
Like Hill, however, there are plenty of books that I donâ€™t keep â€“ and sheâ€™s delightfully practical on the subject. She writes:
Many have gone â€“ lent or left, sold or given away, for there is nothing essentially sacred about a book just because it is printed on paper and bound between covers... You donâ€™t read many thrillers twice. Others served a temporary practical need â€“ your cat was having kittens and you needed to know how to look after them; you were travelling to Denmark and wanted a guide.... Pass the thriller to a friend, give the cat book to the charity shop, sell the guide to Denmark on eBay. You donâ€™â€™t have to pay its ren t just because it is a book.
But thereâ€™s a lot more to Howardâ€™s End is on the Landing than books: itâ€™s also a story of decades of London literary life. I can only envy Hillâ€™s early introduction to the London Library (a delight Iâ€™ve only relatively recently enjoyed â€“ and with my own cash) and her enjoyment of its celebrities (something I miss out on since Iâ€™m usually dashing in and out).