Monday, 19 October 2009

Howards End is on the Landing

I love books about books; you probably know this about me but it bears repeating. I love books about books and yet I did not love Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. I enjoyed parts but this did not live up to the hype for me and I was very disappointed. For the most part though, I was annoyed; I felt deceived -wait, deceived is a strong word so make that misled. The book is subtitled "A Year of Reading From Home" and I expected discussion of books that Susan Hill had discovered on her shelves and finally read, providing her impressions of that first read, and embracing those books on her shelves that she found and greeted like a long-lost relative, rereading and loving them all the more but there was very little -arguably none- of that and instead I read a memoir of a writer who, up until that point, I had only read one book by and honestly didn't have much invested interest in.

Granted, Susan Hill is a bibliophile and as a fellow bibliophile I nodded my head along in agreement at times and shook it at others but for the majority of the time I did not play the part of a nodding dog; Susan Hill and I do not share similar reading tastes and I was bored reading about most of the writers she professed love for (a whole chapter in a short book devoted to WG Sebald, really?) I do share her passion for Virginia Woolf and I found those parts interesting; the small section on Iris Murdoch was exceptionally poignant and I agreed with her point that she has sadly fallen out of fashion and almost into obscurity. After reading a particularly frustrating section (of which I will write more about in a moment) Susan Hill redeemed herself when she credited "A Doll's House" -my all-time favourite Katherine Mansfield short story- as "one of the best stories ever written about childhood" but the redemption was short-lived.

She came across as a book snob, in my opinion, in the below passage and I was very annoyed with her. We all have books that simply don't work for us but this is rather disparaging of entire genres.

But it is not only older books which shiver together, unread, unloved. Here are three books by Terry Pratchett, and I really have tried but it's no good ... stories of wee small men ... I can't. I bought several to see if they were any different but they're not. It scarcely matters. Terry Pratchett can do without me, so can every other fantasy writer and historical novelist who ever wrote.

I am sure that Susan Hill did not mean for this to come across as thoroughly condescending but it did. It angers me when readers discount entire genres; it is pretentious. As a Scot I should also point out that "wee" means small so why use a synonym in addition to the word itself and misquote the title and characters? It scarcely matters. Terry Pratchett has surely outsold Susan Hill numerous times over.

Hill certainly evoked the power of books to transport the reader back in time "in the most extraordinary way - the way of the Proustian madeleine"; this is one of a few pleasant turns of phrase that a fellow book-lover will love but Howards End is on the Landing had the potential to provide so much more. Why couldn't it all have read like the following passage? If it had, this would be an effusive review.

I love the book. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the compactness of it, the shape, the size. I love the feel of paper. The sound it makes when I turn a page. I love the beauty of print on paper, the patterns, the shape, the fonts. I am astonished by the versatility and practicality of The Book. It is so simple. It is so fit for its purpose. It may give me mere content, but no e-reader will ever give me that sort of added pleasure.

I don't think that Susan Hill had anything new to say. Her book didn't read as a book at all with any cohesion to it but more as unconnected essays on books; some of her subjects have been covered as Booking-through-Thursday blog posts and other bloggers have brought up "Things That Fall Out of Books" and "A Book By Its Cover" (amongst other individual blog topics or series). The year of reading at home may have been the pretext for the book but instead of giving an account of her project it took backseat to her recollections of various encounters with other writers and people she thought worthy of note; it then built up to a list of forty books that she could not live without, which I didn't think was ever properly addressed and who hasn't compiled a desert island list at some point? On mine though I have The Complete Works of Shakespeare as it is one physical book and belabouring the point for a number of pages unsatisfactorily (in my opinion) to whittle it down to one play was pointless; goodness, her husband is an eminent Shakespearean scholar, couldn't she have just packed one of his volumes? Basically I think that Howards End is On the Landing was a cop-out and Susan Hill published thoughts on books that book-lovers and bloggers have been articulating for years and bound it in a beautiful cover with a catchy title. Fine, someone paid her for it and she has the reputation that gives authority to those thoughts but her book ultimately did not do what it said on the cover.


Rachel (Book Snob) said...

Thank you so much for the honest review Claire. I'm glad you didn't feel pressured to tow the party line on this one- I have bought this on the strength of the excellent reviews other bloggers have posted and now I am worried because I had expected exactly what you expected from this and I fear I shall be equally disappointed.

Oh well. I've bought it now...I'm going to bump this up on my TBR pile as I'm intrigued to see what I will make of it. I had assumed from everyone else's reviews that I would love it, no question, and was saving it for a nice cosy read, but now there are conflicting views I am eager to find out which camp I will fall into!

StuckInABook said...

Claire, I have never been so surprised! What a shame that you didn't love it, I was so certain that anybody who love books would also love Howards End is on the Landing. Sorry that it didn't live up to the hype for you (and I must have contributed in some way TO that hype) and hope you have something you prefer to indulge in next - always the best thing to do after a reading disappointment.

Karen said...

What a disappointment for you Claire!! I have just ordered the book from the UK and I am still looking forward to it but I am thinking from your review I might share a lot of your views on this one!

verity said...

I have to say that although it was enjoyable for me in some ways; it definitely didn't live up to expectations. Very sad. I shall be posting about it later, and I shall probably link to you.

Paperback Reader said...

Rachel, I never tow the party line! I pride myself on being honest, even if that can sometimes be brutal. You may find now that you know what not to expect you will still enjoy it; my disappointment was mainly because the subject was different from what I imagined.

At least it has created intrigue. I imagine that I will remain very much in the minority in my views. I am finding more and more that I need to tether my expectations when it comes to loving a book that everyone else has.

Simon, aptly I have the new Terry Pratchett book lined up! Yes, you contributed to the hype (and that's not a bad thing) and I wanted to love this book but it would be boring if we all loved the same ones. I do hope I enjoy Miss Hargreaves :).

Karen, I would prefer that others didn't experience the disappointment I did rather than share my views. It was unfortunate but sometimes books irritate the reader more than educate.

Verity, looking forward to your thoughts. Glad to know that I wasn't the only one whose expectations were dashed.

Unknown said...

Fantastic review! Book snobs are one of my pet hates.

I can't believe she would rule out all historical fiction and fantasy. I know we all have different taste in books, but there will be some books from every genre for each person to enjoy.

I have never been a big lover of books about books, so this didn't have the appeal it did for some people. My TBR pile is big enough already and is filled with books recommended by people whose opinion I trust - not that of an author who I have no relationship with.

It is interesting that you felt book bloggers had been doing this sort of thing for years - perhaps this would have been a great book 20 years ago? I wonder if Susan Hill reads blogs, or whether she avoids us too!

I'm quite pleased I didn't get caught up in the excitement about this book. Thank you for being so honest - you make me smile!!

Anonymous said...

Claire, what an interesting review. I was about to order this book but I think I'll wait till the cheaper paperback copy comes out.

By the way, I started a book blog. Come visit!


Unknown said...

I said to my wife the other day, that I didn't see the point in this one as my blog was pretty much the same thing - and it's free! I am now feeling a little smug and vindicated :)

Reading about books can be good, but reading books is always better...

Anonymous said...

Great review Claire and in parts I agree with you. I disagreed with a fair few things Susan Hill said but what I loved about that was it made me think more about books and my own funny book rules and quirks and I found that quite interesting. I also found the chapter on Sebald erm... hard work shall I say!?

As I love Susan Hill as a writer I would have read the book and as a big follower of her old blog I know (and in some cases like) her honesty and bluntness which works for me. I think the first sentence is just meant to be her opinion which people may disagree with or not but she knows many people do as she states that 'Terry Pratchett can do with out me' maybe the rest of that line could have been cut out?

Shame you didnt like it, but glad to know why and in some parts I agree.

Paperback Reader said...

Jackie, mine too; it really raise my hackles when people turn the nose up at what I read or haven't read.

I discussed discounting an entire genre recently (the science fiction post) and can't believe people do it as there is so much to offer that something for everyone is available. At the end of that section Susan Hill went on to say that she was shocked to find John Wyndham on the never-to-be-read shelves as he may be Sci-Fi but basically has literary merit. I wonder if she'll change her mind about historical literature now that Hilary Mantel won the Booker (another thing about book snobs - prizes often dictate what is good and what is not).

Susan Hill does read blogs (she commented on dgr and nonsuch book recently) and probably found a lot of her ideas for the book on them.

You can always count on me for honesty.

Hi Mrs. B/Atrid! I've added your new blog to my google reader. I'd definitely wait for the paperback.

Tony, you deserve to feel smug and vindicated! Never was a truer word said. I do love books about books but my TBR is too long anyway that I should be reading the books being discussed in them instead and, after this experience, it may be a long while until I read another book of this kind.

Simon, I think it's very important to explain why you don't like a book so that others understand and are not unduly swayed or influenced. Glad to know that some of my points you agree with.
As I've said, she probably didn't mean to sound condescending but it came across that way to me and put me off the rest of the book (it wasn't the first thing to annoy me though).
I'm sorry that I didn't like it too but these things happen.

Eva said...

I'm so glad you wrote this review-I thought it was about reading from her shelves too, and if it's not I don't really want to read it.

I get so tired of reading genre snobbery, even Nick Hornby, who I love, did that a couple of times in his book columns. It makes me mentally yell at the author! lol

Paperback Reader said...

Eva, it was more of a pretext for talking about books (in an unoriginal way) and is completely misleading. Perhaps we should run a year of reading from home challenge to satisfy our curiosity and craving for that subject matter.

I was mentally yelling too. I hate when beloved writers do it and, in this, I hate when beloved writers receive the brunt of it.

SusanHill said...

You win some you lose some - my only complaint is about being called a book snob. I have no idea what that is but I am no more a book snob than I am a people snob - otherwise I wouldn`t enjoy Penny Vincenzi and Michael Connolly and Denis Lehane and Patricia Cornwell and... but I didn`t have room in my book for everything !
Thanks for giving it your attention though.
Good wishes
Susan Hill

Paperback Reader said...

Susan Hill,

Thank you for commenting and for being gracious.

Being a book snob could be defined as excluding entire genres of literature through preconceptions and by distinguishing between those writers that you enjoy but don't include in your book whilst at the same time making room for those with literary merit. You didn't refute the claim but cited four writers you enjoy, none of whom write Fantasy or Historical novels.

The book and publishing industry wouldn't be as exciting and diverse as it is if you won them all and all publicity is free publicity. Your book has been very popular so far amongst book bloggers and one negative review won't make much of an impact.

Best Wishes,


Rufus Pitman said...

I can absolutely confirm that Susan Hill is not a book snob, and it's really a little bit silly to suggest that someone is because they don't like Terry Pratchett and fantasy writing. You don't have to like everything. As far as I'm aware it's not compulsory to like Terry Pratchett, or J.K.Rowling, or any other author. Try not to bully distinguished and generous authors in the fake and dishonest name of demotic taste.

Darlene said...

My copy should be arriving in a day or two, your review ramps up my interest. I ordered this book not so much to read about the books on Susan's shelves but to learn more about books and authors. Book blogs, such as yours Claire, have taught me more about these things than working in a library for twenty years. Sadly, the library has become more about business and bottom line and less about the book itself. Thanks for your honest and thought prevoking review!

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Rufus, thank you for your comment.

I didn't say that Susan Hill was a book snob because she doesn't like Terry Pratchett. Many people can't read Terry Pratchett having tried and I respect that; many of the bloggers who I interact with have had no luck with him.

What I did say was that IN MY OPINION she came across as a book snob for discounting two entire literary genres, fantasy and historical fiction.

You do not have to like everything which has been very apparent in my thoughts on Susan Hill's book. She said she didn't know what a book snob was and I was explaining.

I haven't been fake or dishonest, far from it.

Paperback Reader said...

Darlene, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Reviews should ramp up interest in books and I am glad that this post has inspired people read it quicker than they intended or read it at all. It is not my intent to bully people into disliking this book as that would be dull.

I am glad that I have shared what I know about and have learned from books with you, Darlene. I love discussing books with you all and exchanging our thoughts and impressions.

StuckInABook said...

Mr. Pitman! 'Bully'? 'Fake and dishonest'? I hate to jump into these things, but I couldn't see *you* bully Paperback_Reader like that without wanting to defend her. It would have been fake of her to sweep aside her thoughts and write a response which was untrue. Had she spray-painted her thoughts over Susan Hill's windows, *that* would have been bullying. (Also, is bulling an *un*distinguished author acceptable?)

It was very good of Susan Hill to comment on the review - it would have been lovely to see her response to the more (or, indeed, wholly) positive reviews. But I am impressed by the graciousness of her comment here, and only wish that you, Mr. Pitman, could have followed suit.

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, thank you :). It means a lot.

Jenny said...

I've never been able to get on with Terry Pratchett, and I still found that jab at fantasy & historical fiction aggravating. I like books about books best when the writer is talking about books I love - so I think I'll give this a miss.

Paperback Reader said...

Jenny, it's nice to know that I am not alone in finding the comment aggravating, especially from a non Terry Pratchett lover. It isn't just that I took offense at a favourite author being dismissed. We all engage more when authors or bloggers are discussing books and writers that we like and although I do like some of the writers Susan Hill spoke so affectionately about, the others I wasn't interested in at all. I don't think that is a failing on her part or on mine but simply personal preference.

Stacy said...

The chapter on Sebald was one of my favorites:) We had such different journeys through this book. I do see your point about the subtitle but I felt that each topic she writes on was an outshoot of not only the reading she did from home but the thoughts and associations that can pop up when going through the shelves of one's personal library. If I were Hill, I would have picked that complete edition of Shakespeare. But I am not Hill, so I must confess that Shakespeare in any form would not have made my list.

Rufus Pitman said...

The thing which makes me wonder who the book snob is around here, paperback writer, is your comment that since Terry Pratchett has outsold Susan Hill many times, her comments are somehow not valid. Let's face it: Susan Hill has written many more books than you have, and sold a great many more copies. But it doesn't seem to you that you shouldn't be allowed to comment on Susan Hill's books, does it? Nor should it.
I don't think I was being bullying. I think there is a freedom of commentary for you, and for Susan Hill, but one of the things which is really incredibly silly to tell somebody else is that they have some kind of duty to like the things which you happen to like, at the expense of being called a snob. I agree that in a genre we don't happen generally to like or find sympathy for, some patient explanation of an unusual favourite could lead to some kind of conversion, but in a book - an excellent book - like Howards End Is On The Landing - which is is openly and explicitly about personal tastes and prejudices in reading, you're allowed to say "I've never liked any of this genre in practice and now I'm admitting it" without somebody leaping in and calling you a snob, surely? Why not make some positive contribution by suggesting half a dozen fantasy works that, going on the other books that Susan Hill says she likes, you think might convert her to a genre you enjoy? Constructive criticism is often better than personal abuse, don't you think?

Annabel Gaskell said...

Fabulous review. I can't wait to read it even more now as your comments have really intrigued me.

My favourite book about books is Anne Fadiman's 'Ex Libris' - a truly wonderful collection of essays on eclectic topics like to merge or not merge libraries when moving in with your boyfriend etc - magic! Have you read that one?

StuckInABook said...

Oo, Annabel, you have good taste! Ex Libris is wonderful - and I'm sure Claire would like it. It's not about any books in particular (as far as I can remember) but rather about reading and owning books in general.

Paperback Reader said...

Mr Pitman, I was pastiching Susan Hill's own words in my comment about Terry Pratchett having outsold her (and the majority of other authors out there); do you understand pastiche? I never once said her opinions were not valid.

I am all for constructive criticism. I didn't write about this book and say that I hated it; I wrote about it constructively and explained why I didn't like it -why it didn't work for me as a reader- so that others could make up their own minds whether it would work for them. What isn't constructive is you commenting on my blog for the first time to call me a bully. That strikes me as someone who is instigating and argument and frankly I am too busy reading books to immerse myself in an argument with someone that I have no relationship with on my blog and no obligation to.

Oh, and it is paperback_READER; it's a play on the famous Beatles track.

Back to business:

Annabel, glad it made you more eager to read it! There's nothing like some controversy to attract me to a book either.

I haven't read Ex Libris but fully intend to (even in light of this experience). It has been on my radar for sometime and as it has a place on Simon's "50 Books" list, how could I not?!

Simon, that sounds more to my taste, definitely. The problem with writing about specific books is that, of course, you cannot please everyone as all of our tastes differ.

Steph said...

Claire, I have to admit I was so surprised to hear that you didn't really like this book, because it really does sound like one of those titles we book lovers will, well, love! Plus there's been so much effusive praise for it of late, I was certainly expecting big things.

But based on what you've written, I do understand why this book did not work for you, because I had a similar experience, albeit with a different book! I bought a title a few years ago about a year of reading and had such high hopes... only to find that it was less about books and more about this woman's entitled life and all of her complaints. I wanted to read about books, and instead I got a memoir (written by someone who seemed quite shallow and not really like someone who likes books very much at all!). Ever since that experience, I've been a lot more wary of "books about books". Ah well, not all books will work for each of us... and I suppose that's why I will not unilaterally discard either the meta-fiction or the memoir genre in their entirety! ;)

Paperback Reader said...

Book Psmith, we definitely had different experiences with this book. I saw on Verity and Simon's blogs that you immediately began to read it again after finishing it! It is rare that we find a book that illicts such a joyful response in us like that and I am so happy for you, if disappointed that this book didn't offer me that.

Steph, I fully expected to love it too but sadly it didn't do it for me and instead of just a lacklustre experience it instead frustrated me. I will be warier now of books about books but, like you, I would never permit it to put me off entirely (and, um, exclude an entire genre). Perhaps the best thing to do is jump straight back on the horse and read Ex Libris or The Paper House, a book that was mentioned in HEiotL.

Jeanne said...

I'm glad to see someone sticking up for a less-than-glowing opinion of something she's read, and glad to see the author being gracious about it. I'm also amused at how the mere mention of Pratchett's name gets people all worked up, almost every time. Really, though, why do we have to work towards making anyone like fantasy? If they don't like it, it's their loss. And despite what Rufus says, no one else seems to see "abuse" in this review.

"Book snob" is a term that can be lobbed around pretty indiscriminately. I'd like to see more people telling why they like or dislike books, as you do here, and fewer people venerating classics and beating up on poor old Dan Brown just because they feel they're "supposed" to in order to establish some kind of bibliophilic cache.

Paperback Reader said...

Jeanne, I definitely stand by my opinion and my post and do appreciate the graciousness of Susan Hill. Your post recently about writing negative reviews was spot-on and I paid heed.
Yes, other than Rufus, nobody has found this review abusive; some may have been shocked that I didn't like the book but I backed it up. I wanted to be fair and tried not be overly harsh.

To each their own but I think that readers shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. So you don't like Pratchett, does that mean you don't try Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, JRR Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Susanna Clarke?

Dan Brown is what he is and I personally found the books that I read of his to be addictive and engaging, just as I found the Twilight books to be. Neither Brown nor Meyer are the best writers in the world but they certainly know how to keep their readers enthralled at times. I will readily admit to reading a wide range of literature (even what some people wouldn't constitute as being literature at all) to meet different reading needs. I love books and I don't get pretentious about it.

Thank you for a thought-provoking comment.

Pattern and Perspective said...

Brown is a formula writer. Entertaining; but only a master in his own genre - not a master of literary fiction. Same with Cornwell and other such writers. Good; but, not profound.

I did purchase Howard's End and thus far love the descriptive words throughout. I didn't buy the book to learn about books I need to read or add to my collection; I bought it to read about Hill's personal journey. I could care less about opinions. My journey or yours would not be the same in this situation; so, I don't wish to judge her opinions. The book is small, but if she was to write about all the books in her library, she'd have an encyclopedia on hand. I think I shall send the book off to my mother, a research/music/YA librarian, and she what her thoughts are on this matter. Happy Reading.

kimbofo said...

What a great review, Claire. I would rather read an honest negative review than a disingenuous positive one.

Sadly, I don't usually like books about books, mainly because I usually haven't read the books being written about, which leads to quite a dull read. I'd rather be out there reading the books... Does that make sense?

I think Susan Hill has been very gracious here, not the least because she's famously come out on several ocassions declaring that book reviewers are not entitled to write negative reviews! You might be interested in this interview on Vulpres Libris (a wonderful blog, if you dont already read it):

kimbofo said...

Woops, I mean, she has famously come out on several ocassions declaring that book BLOGGERS are not entitled to write negative reviews!

(I've still got a ratty chest cold -- can you tell?)

Anonymous said...

My copy is in the mail, and after all the conversation in the comments, I'm anxious to read it!

dovegreyreader said...

Hi Claire, I'm so sorry too that you didn't like this book, especially as I was also part of the genuine wave of love for it:-)
Perhaps the significant word on the cover that the book lives up to fully in my mind is the little word 'memoir' in the ISBN box.
A memoir is surely a place to write the truth, what has happened to you and Susan Hill has been completely honest, hung her memoir on the books and the people that have meant something to her and surely is allowed to say what hasn't worked for her too? She can only write about her own experience truthfully with those books and those people, not mine, not anyone else's.
I guess anyone who writes a book like this is bound to find themselves out of step with other readers on the surface but perhaps it's what lies beneath that matters. The way that books become part of our DNA, I certainly enjoyed reading the anecdotes of meetings with authors and I think for me the book was a perfect catalyst to really thinking about my own reading slightly differently.Plenty that Susan has on her list wouldn't come within a mile of mine, but that's the joys and pleasures of a reading life and reading about someone else's surely?

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Pattern and Perspective, thank you for your comment and input. From the comments here it is apparent that we have all travelled different journeys in reading this book and that is testimony to the subject matter of books. I hope you mother enjoys it.

Thank you, Kim. I share your sentiments and will always maintain my integrity for however long I blog. I should be reading books too instead of books about books - that made perfect sense!

I had no idea about Susan Hill's previous stance (I've only recently started to read Vulpres Libres) and appreciate her graciousness.

Feel better! I'm still keeping the germs at bay.

Jill, that seems to be most people's view who haven't read it! Everyone wants to weigh in and see which camp they fall in (I am very much in the minority).

Hi Lynne, thank you for your thought-provoking comment. I am sorry too that I didn't enjoy it as much as I was expecting.
My expectations played a huge part in the experience because I wasn't expecting a memoir, or certainly the memoir we were given. I thought it would have been an exposition on the year of reading at home and I didn't get that from the book at all; I expected a memoir of how difficult it was not to purchase new books, how she struggled with choosing what to read, how she then embraced what was on her shelves. Now I will hold my hands up and admit that I took the book at face value and fully expected it to live up to its subtitle instead of its ISBN box. Yes, I agree that pleasure can be found in disagreeing with her choices and book habits -as many of the other commenters enjoyed doing- but I found her altogether too contentious and far removed from my own tastes. I have made an issue of her discounting two entire genres but let's not forget that she also throws out Jane Austen, Canadian Literature and Australian Literature with the bathwater too; yes, they are her preferences but I simply couldn't enjoy a book about books that was so prejudiced about books.

Cristina said...

Hi Claire
Thank you for such an honest and informative review; I think you backed it up beautifully.

I too was led to believe that this was a book about Susan Hill taking time out to get reacquainted with old favourites and reading neglected books on her shelves. I think I got this impression from the blurb and from the introduction (on Amazon) and also from other blogs!. Relieved then that I didn't buy it as it is rather misleading in that respect and I would have been deeply disappointed.

With so many glowing reviews on the web, yours helps to bring balance to the table... we don't all have the same experience with a book and surely the purpose of blogging is to share a personal experience - whether largely positive or negative. Thanks for doing that.

Oh, and Rufus needs to take a chill pill.

Rebecca Reid said...

I tend to dislike memoirs simply because I am bored by the people telling their story: what do they have that is so special compared to the guy down the street? I don't mind book memoirs as much since I obviously like to read books blogs!

Sounds like this one was disappointing.

I think I'm probably a book snob. There are some genres that I will probably not pick up because I just don't think much of it.(I know, bad me! Judging a book by it's cover, I know!)

Unknown said...

No Australian literature? Well, that's just silly.


Rant over :)

Paperback Reader said...

Cristina, thank you for your generous comment. I am pleased that you appreciated my honestly and balance.

Rebecca, to be fair I think that we all have inherent snobbish tendencies and when it comes to books we like what we like. I think it is dangerous to be so discriminating and I do think that an author has a responsibility to be less dismissive (this isn't a new PoV and I said the same recently about Margaret Atwood's vehement distancing of herself from the Sci-Fi genre).

Tony, silly indeed.
You are most welcome to rant on my blog any time (as long as it isn't abusive), especially if it convinces me to give Tim Winton a try!

Unknown said...

Fascinating comments on this post!

I would like to suggest that people who think they don't enjoy fantasy should try Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami or Ghostwritten by David Mitchell.

Those who don't enjoy historical fiction should have a look at the Booker short list this year, or try Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel.

I hope that helps!

Paperback Reader said...

Thank you for the suggestions, Jackie. Murakami's surrealism is great and fantasy is so much more than "wizards in woods" and gets such a bad rep.

I mentioned the Booker shortlist in one of my comments; it is a genre definitely in vogue this year.

Merenia said...

Doesn't like Jane Austen!!! Does she say why???

Merenia in Australia - land of unworthy literature!

Rebecca Reid said...

Claire, I have found that more I blog about books, the more willing I am to give "different" books a try! Fantasy and graphic novels have crept in and I've like them both!

(Not that I"m planning on reading Twilight anytime soon, but at least it's a start!)

Paperback Reader said...

Merenia, she says that she always missed the point of Austen and that Austen bores her. She then went onto say -after confessing that she was a non Janeite- that Colin Firth was never her idea of Mr Darcy. Talk about rubbing salt in a wound. The more I think about this book, the more offended I become!

Rebecca, blogging does open us up to trying new things as well as discovering new books. If there are any gaps in my reading then I like to fill them. I know what I like but I would never consider myself so well-read that I could simply write-off an area of literature that doesn't appeal to me; I would be scared that it would also be to my detriment as a reader.

StuckInABook said...

I was actually really impressed by the fact that, in the Jane Austen chapter, Susan Hill said that she frequently tried JA again and again - yes, I can't understand why she doesn't love Austen, but to keep trying shows a resilient and humble reader!

Someone at my book group the other day thought Jennifer Ehle was rubbish as Elizabeth... I almost scratched them...

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, I'll give Susan Hill credit for perseverance.

I cannot watch the Kiera Knightley P&P because Jennifer Ehle IS Elizabeth Bennett to me just as Colin Firth is Mr Darcy (although whoever played his part in Lost in Austen was very good too).

Aarti said...

Thanks for such a thoughtful review. I think you bring up valid points. I feel like there are a lot of books on my shelves I should re-read because I like them so much. Maybe I'll host a challenge next year for it :-)

And I'll add you to the Riveters line-up! Thanks for volunteering to take part. It's great fun!

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Aarti, thanks for commenting. I would love a year of reading from home (hm, I wonder if that's what I should have been doing this year?) Rereading some of my favourites would be a joy as would reading those books on the shelves that I have always meant to but just haven't made time for (or become distracted by one hundred other books).

I'm looking forward to your series and already have a fabulous female character in mind!

kimbofo said...


I feel sorry for her now -- she's missed out on so much wonderful stuff from my homeland: Patrick White, George Johnston, Randolph Stow, Richard Flanagan, Peter Carey, David Malouf, Helen Garner... Need I go on?

Paperback Reader said...

Kim, her exact words were that she had a problem with Australian writers (as she does with Canadian ones) as "They blur together. I cannot distinguish between any of their characters because they are so alike, live the same ordinary lives in the same ordinary places."

It's okay though, her final list of forty books she couldn't live without was diverse; she had four novelists that weren't English on it (two Americans, one Irish, one Finnish).

Cristina said...

Re the quote regarding Australian and Canadian writing: Goodness! I find that quite an offensive, prejudiced statement.

Does she dismiss South African writing too? I am seriously getting the hump with this book!

Paperback Reader said...

Cristina, you are not alone in your outrage. She doesn't mention South African literature or anything else; the vast bodies of Canadian and Australian literature were the only ones she insulted but, as she pointed out above, she didn't have room for everything.

Merenia said...

Hmmm, Jane Austen does say something about dull elves...

Unknown said...

"It's okay though, her final list of forty books she couldn't live without was diverse; she had four novelists that weren't English on it (two Americans, one Irish, one Finnish)."

Hmm. Diverse? You must have a different dictionary to mine... I'm English too, and I don't think my list would be anywhere near as Anglocentic (this year to date, of my 76 books read, 30 are from England, with about 15 countries represented - around 10 of which are non-English speaking).

'Howard's End is on the Landing' is in the doghouse.

Paperback Reader said...

Merenia, thanks for making me laugh!

Tony, the dictionary I was using was the universal dictionary of sarcasm ;). I'd have to look at my reading journal for the year but I have read quite a number of books in translation as well as many from other English-speaking countries; a number would now make it onto a list of books I couldn't live without.

Ana S. said...

Uh oh...I too love books about books, an I was REALLY coveting this, but after that passage, I think Susan Hill can do without me :/ Maybe that's not what she means, but it sounds extremely narrow-minded to assume that the stories are about wee free men and nothing else...

Eva's comment reminded me of something: I'm almost done with Unseen Academicals, and I swear, I REALLY want to lock Nick Hornby in a basement with it and only let him out after he's read it. He'd love it if only he got over his genre prejudice. But at least Hornby always sounds a bit apologetic about it, rather than just snobbish.

Ana S. said...

Also, I had missed Ms Hill's comment and now I feel awful *digs a hole and hides in it* My apologies!

Paperback Reader said...

*shrugs* Ana, I think your comment is perfectly valid and I stand by my opinion.

I've only just started Unseen Academicals but think you should lock Nick Hornby in a room with it anyway!

Jodie said...

Oh I'm sad because I want to read this, but it seems Susan Hill and I will not see eye to eye on Pratchett, so perhaps our literary tastes will not match up at all:( I think these kind of books are always more fun when you and the author like the same books.

Paperback Reader said...

Jodie, I agree completely; I don't read blogs where the tastes of the blogger and mine completely diverge. I would say that Susan Hill's and my tastes (taking into account what she covered in the book) only matched about 30% which made the majority of the book boring as I wasn't interested at all in the other writers she discussed. Obviously though there are people out there who do have similar tastes and that's why the book worked for them.

Elaine said...

Well, after all this hoo-hah and comments I think I will have to read this. I was thinking of buying it but think I will reserve it at the library instead!

Glad you had the courage of your convictions and said what you thought.

I love historical fiction and loathe science fiction by the way, love Jane Austen and know absolutely nothing about Sebald....

Paperback Reader said...

Elaine, I am glad that, for the most part, those people who wanted to read the book still intend to as they are now intrigued and I haven't deprived anyone from a potentially different reading experience with my negative review.

Thomas Hogglestock said...

Claire: I kind of avoided your review until I had read the book myself and reviewed it. Well, done and done. And now that I read your review I realize how similar mine is to yours.

I love the long conversation you got started with your review. Reading some of the comments here has reminded me of things I wanted to rant about in my review.

Paperback Reader said...

Thomas, reading your review has reminded me of the many things I wanted to rant about in mine! Very well said.

claire said...

CLaire, now that the readathon's over, I can finally devote time to commenting. I had been following the exciting conversation here. I also admire the graciousness of Susan Hill's comment here. However, I was a bit put off about her low opinion of book blogging.

I also can't blame her for her own preferences, but after reading Thomas's post, I think what I'd also like to read about is the actual one-year journey that you and he were talking about that is missing in this book, as you say. So maybe a memoir instead is not something I'd like to read after all.

However, I'm still intrigued because it's still a book about books after all, and I can't resist those things. One of the books featured here, The House of Paper, is a favourite of mine, so I'm still curious what she has to say. I wanted so much to have a copy of this and was waiting for the paperback. Now I will just have to borrow from the library first and see which camp I fall into.

As for disregarding Canadian lit, I'm surprised that such a supposedly well-read writer should think they all blur together. How can one possibly confuse Life of Pi's Richard Parker the Tiger, and even Pi Patel himself, with other Canadian lit characters? I'm bemused. And what about Ondaatje's The English Patient? The English patient himself is entirely his own unique character, and based on a real person, too.

Bottomline, I still respect her as a reader with her own preferences, but it's just baffling how she can say Australian/Canadian book blurs with one another. I sincerely hope she gets over her misconceptions and maybe find some worthwhile ones in the future.

Paperback Reader said...

Claire, I am impressed that you are already commenting after the readathon!

You raise extremely valid points about the versatility and richness of Canadian literature. I don't think that any Margaret Atwood novels are samey let alone can be confused by every other Canadian novel.

Her low opinion of blogging also raises my hackles (not only do we have no authority to write negative reviews but we shouldn't gush either; apparently she doesn't feel strongly enough about the gushing though to comment), especially when she employs a micro-style in HEiotL very similar to that of blogging.

Diana Birchall said...

I'm so glad that this brouhaha about the Susan Hill book, whatever else it's done, has led me to discover your blog! (It was mentioned on the Dove Grey list, of which I'm a member.) I really savor your honesty and fearlessness, wonderful qualities in a book blogger.

Diana Birchall

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Diana, thank you for your lovely comment! I hope you enjoy further posts.

bookheaper said...

I think it's specifically Alice Munro's stories Susan Hill finds samey in terms of characters. But thanks from me too for your honest review, PR, as I had very mixed feelings about the book. But I would still have bought it, partly for the cover and because I like disagreeing with other people's choices of books. It can be fascinating.

Paperback Reader said...

Hi bookheaper, thanks for common. I didn't have a particularly good experience of Alice Munro's Open Secrets when I had to read the stories at University but it wouldn't prompt me to discount all Canadian literature.

I agree that it is fascinating though to disagree (and agree) with other people's book choices, like checking out their bookcases the first time you visit their home.

Samantha said...

Goodness - I had to stop reading the comments after Rufus' second "go" at you. What I like about blogs is that if something in them "offends" you can simply stop reading it and by their very nature they are one's own opinions! Excellent review and substantiation Clair - and as I enjoy your blog and have similar tastes I don't think I will add this one to my tbr pile :-)

Paperback Reader said...

Samantha, my thoughts on this book have generated so much discussion! The comments (bar the Rufus attack) are very interesting. I am touched that you trust my judgement.