Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Books on Books

I just finished reading Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing, the musings of a Constant Reader on a year dedicated to reading and rereading only books found around her own house - books forgotten, accidentally acquired, received as gifts, misplaced, once loved, or bought but never read.  A fascinating and deeply literate journey.  I didn't always agree with her likes or dislikes (Not like Jane Austen?  Or Terry Pratchett?  How misguided), but her ruminations were always considered and interesting.  Her love for books and a reader's life is... well, endearing.

About half way through reading, it dawned on me that Susan Hill is the author of The Woman in Black.  I haven't read that novel yet, but I have designed a set for the stage adaptation, a thoroughly spooky story.  (There's a film version coming out soon starring Daniel Radcliffe.)

Set design for WaterTower Theatre by Clare Floyd DeVries  c

Among the quotes scattered through Howards End is on the Landing is this gem from David Cecil on criticism:

"...[the literary critic's] aim should be to interpret the work they are writing about and to help the readers appreciate it, by defining and analysing those qualities that make it precious and by indicating the angle of vision from which its beauties are visible.  But many critics do not realise their function.  They aim not to appreciate but to judge; they seek first to draw up laws about literature and then to bully readers into accepting these laws... [but] you cannot force taste on someone else, you cannot argue people into enjoyment."

I suggest you broaden that quote to art criticism of all kinds.

To a Constant Reader, books and reading itself are fascinating.

A thoughtful reading-tour like Hill's is the pleasant equivalent to sitting in a cozy armchair and reading about adventurous travel through rain forests or deserts.  (I'm slowly traveling through Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle now too, a fascinating trip of a different kind.)  Other books on books I can recommend are: Book Lust by Nancy Pearl (the librarian with her own action figure!) or any of its sequels for discussions of books worth reading; Talking About Detective Fiction by noted mystery writer P. D. James; or the novella The Paper House by Carlos Maria Dominguez, the tale of a bibliophile driven mad when he loses the essential catalogue to his collection.

Susan Hill is the only other reader of this story I've ever (almost) met; that shared affection for this quirky, charming, tragedy helped endear her own book to me.  To quote Hill quoting Dominguez...

"So books may drive men mad.  'Books change people's destinies,' the author writes, and 'Whenever my grandmother saw me reading in bed, she would say, "Stop that!  Books are dangerous."'

Go flirt with danger!  Read.

Related posts: Insulting Your Audience, Meta Fiction sorta...

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