Jacob’s Room is Full of Books, and more, by Susan Hill

A Bookish Observation

I’ll start this blog post by saying that Susan Hill’s two books-about-books, Jacob’s Room is Full of Books and Howards End is on the Landing, are two of my very favourite books-about-books. They are so good, I’ve made sure I’ve got the printed versions, and they take pride of place on our bookshelves.

Susan Hill has “grown” on me since I first discovered her book “Howard’s End is on the Landing”, and my first impressions of her have certainly been shown to be nonsense. I read “Howards End is on the Landing” a few years ago. I didn’t know who Susan Hill was, and I did not warm to her writing because I felt she was a bit of a show-off, nor could I believe she was as well-read as her book indicated. I’m an Australian, and part of our culture is “the tall poppy syndrome”, which is put into action if anyone seems to be too smart, or too clever, or too cultured (in particular too cultured). If a person displays attributes whereby they are suspected of being a know-all, a show-off, then our culture has a terrible habit of “cutting a person down to size”; hence the naming of this phenomenon as the “tall poppy syndrome”, i.e. cutting down the “tall poppy”; the one who stands out in the crowd. This discourages people from being “know-alls”, a personality trait we Aussies tend to frown on (often mistakenly). In my country, know-all’s are thought to be rude, that is, they are thought to be deliberately belittling others. They are also considered bores. So what’s this Have to do with Susan Hill?

When I read her book “Howards End is on the Landing”, my cultural “cringe” muscle flexed and I thought: “know-it-all!”. I read the book, and put it aside. Then, recently, Susan Hill wrote a follow-up book-about-books, “Jacob’s Room is Full of Books”. And because one of my favourite genres is Books-About-Books (also known as Literary Criticism) for some reason, with fresh eyes, I completely put aside my first impression of a Susan Hill, and saw her in a new light: now I see her as a very gifted communicator, a generous bookophile, a person whose life is immersed within the publishing world, a person who really knows her stuff. (I must have matured, LOL.) I have to ask myself: how did I not recognise Ms Hill’s wealth of knowledge and genuine generosity; she takes the time to share her experience with those of us who haven’t had her amazing literary life.

After finishing “Jacob’s Room is Full of Books”, and with my change of perception regarding the author, I decided to re-read “Howard’s End is on the Landing”. I ate it up! It’s curious to think I was so wrong about Ms Hill’s knowledge. (It’s like a reverse snobbery.) If you like books-about-books, I heartily recommend that you read these two books. You will find that Ms Hill’s conversational descriptions of books and authors will extend into at least another twenty books added to your To-Be-Read (TBR) List.  And if you’re a bookophile like me, you’ll be so envious (in the nicest sense of the word) at the literary life Ms Hill has lived and continues to live. I’m so glad she wrote about it.

Susan Hill’s enthusiasm and opinions led me to add some beauties to my TBR List. Listed below are some of the books I’ve gleaned from Susan Hill’s two books-about-books. There were so many more books that she discussed, along with sharing her likes and dislikes, her meetings with authors and creative people, plus her experience as a judge on some important book prize panels, and, and, and …

The following list is NOT an attempt to list the books mentioned in Susan Hill’s books. The list below is MY list, gleaned from HER literary conversation. I haven’t read all the books on the list below; the books on the list are the ones that attracted me, and the ones that I want to read, the ones I believe I will read.

  • Howards End by E.M. Forster
  • A Time to Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor
  • The Third Man by Graham Greene
  • The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
  • The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
  • The Moving Toyshop (A Gervase Fen Mystery) by Edmund Crispin
  • The Rector’s Daughter by F.M. Mayor
  • Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
  • The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  • The Various Haunts of Men (Simon Serrailler Book #1) by Susan Hill
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
  • The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
  • The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • A Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James
  • The Painted Veil by Somerset W. Maugham
  • The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  • Stoner by John Williams