I loved the title for this book from the moment I heard it mentioned on a radio books programme when it was first published in 2009. I was very pleased to receive a paperback copy for Christmas a couple of years ago from my mum, an even more avid reader than me. Ironically, it has taken me a couple of years to get round to reading it, not only because I always have a very long waiting list of books on my to-read-and-review list, but also because I was saving it when I had time to savour and enjoy it.
It’s not so much a book about books, but an autobiography of one who has lived through books – and what a life the author Susan Hill has led, writing hugely, not only books but reviews of other books as well as running a publishing company and her own subscription magazine, Books and Company, for four years.
I remember from my mum’s subscription that Hill was extraordinarily generous (or an accountant might say naive), in that she didn’t require upfront payment, but seemed to trust that anyone who was a sufficiently discerning person to want to read her magazine would automatically be honest enough to settle their account after receiving the magazine.
This recollection chimes with the general impression from this book that Hill is not part of the internet age but belongs to a more golden and civilised era of writing and reading.
Figures of Literary Influence
During her busy and bookish life, Hill has met an extraordinary number of influential literary figures, whom she mentions in passing. While in some authors that might sound like ostentatious name-dropping, in her case, you’re just as likely to think “lucky them” as “lucky her”. By chance, she is also married to a leading Shakespearean scholar, and it amuses her when someone says they are honoured to meet his wife – surely refreshing when in her busy public life she must meet so many adoring fans of her own.
Reading this book was enhanced for me by having met the author in real life. (Now who’s name-dropping?) I heard her speak at a local book festival organised by the fabulous Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Tetbury, so in my head I was hearing her read it to me in her calm, measured and pleasant voice.
A House Full of Books
It sounds as if Hill’s house is almost entirely composed of books, providing a challenge when in conclusion she tasks herself with shortlisting a “Final Forty” must-have books from her vast supply. Like listening to Desert Island Discs, this book may make you want to create a similar account of your own life lived through books.
Reading this book also smacks a little of the pleasure of looking in someone else’s supermarket shopping trolley to see what they’re buying. As with the shopping trolley habit, what Hill chooses may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but hey, her book, her rules!
As well as being a unique volume that will surely withstand rereading, this book is also a keeper for its beautiful, vibrant and nostalgic cover. You may even be tempted to display it front cover outwards among your favourite books.
Deserving of a place on anyone’s landing, and a great gift for any book lover.
Find out more about Susan Hill on her author website here: www.susanhill.org.uk.
I’m sure that the author would prefer you to buy her book from a traditional high street bookshop if you can, but if all else fails, you can get it online at all the usual suspects, including Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.
PS In browsing Amazon to get the links just now, I also managed to snaffle the last copy currently available on the UK site of The Best of Books and Company – a compilation that I hadn’t come across until now. Thus ever grows my to-read list!