chestnut book blog

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Comfort reading

Comfort eating is a term we hear all the time, but personally, when the chips are down, I turn to my books. It has been a difficult fortnight for many reasons and so I have been burying myself in a few books to keep my chin up. I thought I’d share them with you in case you do the same or in case they are as helpful to you as they have been for me.

The first thing I consulted was The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies. I thought this would have some wise suggestions and sure enough, it did. Jane Eyre was one of the prescriptions for my particular malady and so I turned to the classic gladly.

The second thing I did was to reach for the books that I know I find comforting. The literary equivalent of a hug. There were as follows:

– Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

A book about books that I have mentioned many times and will, unapologetically, continue to mention. Hill’s gentle memoir is like a long warm soak in a bubble bath, followed by warm, fluffy towels. She describes pouring over pop-up books and reading Dickens by the fire as the rain hammers on the windows. Wonderful stuff and just what I needed this week.

– The Magic Apple Tree by Susan Hill

Another Susan Hill, but no apologies from me for it! The descriptions of her making marmalade in her country kitchen, the seasons changing around her cottage and the moods of the magic apple tree of the title are so comforting. Some of the scenes remind my of my own childhood in the countryside, which is one of the reasons I find it so therapeutic. There is also something about nature being so much bigger and older than ourselves that I find strangely calming. This is just such a gentle, peaceful book and that is just what a troubled soul needs.

The English Country House by Julian Fellowes and James Peill

The English Country House by James Peill

The English Country House by James Peill

Does any one else find gorgeous interiors and big fat coffee table books dripping with images incredibly soothing? This was one of my Christmas presents from my lovely husband and I’ve been drooling over it!

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkein

If life is proving a bit tricky, I find a bit of pure escapism is sometimes a balm. How could I worry about my own troubles when there is a dark magic ring to destroy, mountains to climb, rivers to cross and orks to avoid? The central message that friendship conquers all also has a nice feel to it.

So after all that reading, I am now feeling a lot better and ready to return to my blogging. Normal service of two to three posts per week will be resumed and I am looking forward to sharing lots of bookish things with you.


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Howards End is on the Landing

Susan Hill is a wonderful writer and I have a feeling that if I were ever lucky enough to meet her, I would find a kindred spirit. I have not read much of her fiction, apart from the wonderful The Woman in Black and The Second Mrs De Winter, but her non-fiction is so evocative and well-written I almost prefer it.

I was introduced to my first non-fiction Susan Hill book by my regular blog read, DoveGreyReader Scribbles. DoveGreyReader and her subscribers recommended The Magic Apple Tree as a touching meditation on life in a small village. At the time I read those comments, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by life in London and so jumped at the chance to immerse myself in the changing seasons of the English countryside and I was richly rewarded.

After that, I forgot about Susan Hill until I saw this beautiful book on a table in Waterstone’s. Howards End is on the Landing has one of the nicest covers I’ve seen in a long time.

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

The blurb evoked a journey through Hill’s bookshelves and the importance of reading. I was hooked and couldn’t leave the shop without it. One reason this particularly appealed to me that day was I’d been having a slightly heated discussion with the love of my life about the problem of book storage. He was asking me to whittle down my collection so we could avoid the double stacking, stacks on the floor, general nightmare of our study cum third bedroom. I was horrified. Give away my books? How could I do that and deprive myself of re-reading them all when I’m too old or poor to buy any more? Or deprive myself of a niggling question about X author or Y last line that a quick flip through my shelves can answer? Or deprive myself of the sentimental value and memories tied to so many of my copies? You can imagine I gave a rather robust defence. Love me, love my books! So this was the conversation I had in mind when I picked up this book about a year of reading exclusively from your own collection and the joys of rediscovery. Perfect.

The first thing to say is that Hill’s home sounds wonderful! Cosy fires, bookshelves everywhere and nestled into the countryside. She describes wonderful autumn afternoons of browsing through the bookshelves and then settling down with her selections at the kitchen table or in a soft armchair, with a fire and a cup of tea. She talks of her reasons for doing this year of rereading as wanting to ‘repossess her books, explore what I had accumulated over a lifetime of reading and map this house of many volumes.’ I think that is exactly what I had in mind when thinking about why I was holding on so fiercely to all my own books.

There were so many gems of ideas, vignettes of Hill’s meetings with many authors and general bookish information in this book that I can’t begin to summarise them all, but one in particular that connected with me was about slow reading. Hill describes how her books deserve to be savoured: ‘Everything I am reading during this year has so much to yield but only if I give it my full attention and respect by reading it slowly.’ Hill is absolutely right that much is missed when reading quickly and it is a fault I know I have. I am so greedy for books I gobble them up quickly without pausing to reflect on the nuances and intricacies. I will now try to read more slowly to see if I get more from my own books.

At the end of the book, Hill lists the forty books that she could not be without. I have read about a quarter of them so that will be a challenge to do later this year. I grew to respect Hill’s opinions so much in this book that I will take her top forty extremely seriously. I suspect that Howards End is on the Landing may just be in my top forty.