You Are Not a Proper Reader

From the outset of Howard’s End is on the Landing, I was curious about the potential success of a book about books. I suppose that in many ways Hill nudges people into becoming “proper reader[s]” (161), but then again, I assume that most people who read about reading have already received this literary stamp of approval. By the end of Hill’s memoir, I really just wanted to nestle into a corner with T.S. Eliot and Roald Dahl and the whole lot in literary ecstasy, and I did not want Hill there to judge me. This brings me to my study of the accessible author, and the effects of knowing an author on a personal level.

Though Hill’s prose is fluid and entertaining, I was often too distracted by other, seemingly less significant comments that were thrown into the mix. These comments put me under the microscope and found me unworthy. Immediately, Hill describes the dullness of an organized reader by comparing a meticulously organized shelf to her father’s sock drawer (6). Susan, I thought, my books are precisely organized by subject and height. I let it slide. A few pages later, Susan asserts that “Elizabethan plays are not as enticing as their titles and if they were any good we would have heard of them” (8). Susan, I thought, of all the plays in all the world, how can you be sure that you have not missed but one good Elizabethan play? And why, if you “do not have to its pay rent just because it is a book” (7), have you kept these apparently terrible plays? Hill also suspects the organized Folio collector of not being a “proper reader” (161), and promises us that girls will always read more than boys (20). Between Susan’s judgement of my failed status as an acceptable reader, and her facts that are not really facts, I quickly lost patience. What was an interesting read quickly became a lesson in patience, and I concluded that knowing your author can be harmful.

Previous to the Internet and the expansion of celebrity, people read books, devoured books, studied books, and the authors were largely left alone. Now we want to know our writers, connect with our writers, and yet it is this writer that I do not like, not this book. To know a writer destroys the creative world they have imagined, unless (maybe) it is from a biographical standpoint. Autobiographies are far too fresh and raw, and I for one do not want the imperfections of the writer to infringe my reading experience (unless it is in a far subtler way, as with fictional characters). I do not fault Hill for having faults, only for showing them to us (though I do not believe she sees them as such). I hoped for a book of exploration and discovery, but ultimately there was far too much of that for me on a personal level. I want to love my authors and the books they write, and knowing the truth lifts the veil of welcomed ignorance. I often find myself shying from autobiographies for this very reason: I find them overly critical, unavoidably narcissistic, and much too real for the world fictional books live in (and where their authors should stay).

What was your experience in reading Howard’s End is on the Landing? Am I overly cynical and sensitive? Did you find Hill’s comments distracting and frustrating, or personal and connective?


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One Response to You Are Not a Proper Reader

  1. Dylan Vaughan says:

    I agree that autobiographies can often lead to an uncomfortable proximity between the author and the reader, but that is exactly what I find interesting about them. Many of my favorite poems are autobiographical in nature, such as Wordsworth’s Prelude. Do you think the ‘strangeness’ of poetry (as Harold Bloom describes it) makes the proximity between author and reader more bearable?

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