Susan Hill on Reading

My expectations when I bought Howards End is on the Landing, on impulse, in Hatchards were not high. I had not come across author Susan Hill before. I have a voyeuristic fascination with other people’s reading habits and this is one of those books. Two days later I put it down, enchanted.

The simple premise is that writer Susan Hill spends a year reading and rereading her library, rather than buying new books. By the end of the book you have spent time with a writer and publisher that has an extraordinary literary life, as writer, reader, interviewer and publisher. I am pre-disposed in Hill’s favour as she has mostly impeccable (i.e. similar to mine) taste in authors, despite an unforgivable antipathy to Jane Austen.

Here is an excerpt of the chapter entitled Slow, Slow, Slow-Slow, Slow:

A strange competitiveness has emerged among readers in the last few years. I have known book-bloggers boast of getting through twenty books plus, a week, as if trying for a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

The best books deserve better. Everything I am reading during this year has so much to yield but only if I give it my full attention and respect it by reading it slowly. Fast reading of a great novel will get us the plot. It will get us names, a shadowy idea of characters, a sketch of settings. It will not get us subtleties, small differentiations, depth of emotion and observation, multilayered human experience, the appreciation of simile and metaphor, any sense of context, any comparison with other novels, other writers. Fast reading will not get us cadence and complexities of style and language. It will not get us anything that enters not just the conscious mind but the unconscious. It will not allow the book to burrow down into our memory and become part of ourselves, the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom and vicarious experience which help us form as complete human beings. It will not develop our awareness or add to the sum of our knowledge and intelligence.

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