Susan Hill's memoir of a year spent reading, Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home, was so great that I only allowed myself one chapter of it per day, to make it last. It was the book equivalent of a box of chocolate truffles.
Hill is a British author who specializes in ghost and detective stories (her novel The Woman In Black has been made into a film, starring Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter fame, that will open in 2012), but she's clearly very widely read and seems to know or at least have met everyone who's anyone in the British publishing scene. In this memoir, she moves through her own house and bookshelves, explaining why she finds certain books the places she does, and the experiences she relives in revisiting and re-reading them.
Normally these books don't do a whole lot for me. But this one was so wonderful, so straightforward, so imbued with a love for books and reading that I found myself wanting to run right out and get everything she suggests. I also happen to agree with Ms. Hill on her attitude toward the printed book:
"It ain't broke: the book, that is. I know because I just went round the house looking for something to read, and on the way I reassured myself that as the book ain't broke around here, I do not propose to fix it with an electronic reader. Yes, let's use the whole word. Let's tell it like it is. Electronic reader. Something monotonous-looking and made of plastic, is grey and has a screen...I will stick to paper and print and pages for reading books. If it ain't broke. Of course, someone wants to persuade us that it is so that they can sell us their device. 'Twas ever thus." (p. 76.)
But the real genius of her book is in her descriptions of the books she has read and loved: she makes you want to read each and every last one of them. I found a lot of great authors who I already love referenced (she's got a great Penelope Fitzgerald story), and Hill also introduced me to other writers I now want to read. And in addition to recommending specific authors, she also makes a grand case just for READING:
"But if the books I have read have helped to form me, then probably nobody else who ever lived has read exactly the same books, all the same books and only the same books, as me. So just as my genes and the soul within me make me uniquely me, so I have the unique sum of the books I have read. I am my literary DNA...
All through the house, the books are murmuring, turning over in sleep like pebbles on the shoreline as the tide recedes." (p. 202.)
Awesome. Just awesome.