When you read a lot, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the reality and the literary, the worlds sometimes meld into one another, perspectives can be enhanced but you cannot separate the two. Susan Hill is one of those people, not only is she a writer, more importantly, she is a reader too, and this book, Jacob’s Room Is Full of Books is a year full of her reading.
Set over a calendar year, Hill charts a month by month reading diary. She tells us what she is reading and when and most importantly why. Her reading is wide-ranging but tends to be focused more on fiction. Even though she gets a lot of proofs from publishers hoping for that front cover quote, she reads what she wants, from classics to favoured authors and new authors. She is not afraid to be critical of books that she finds below par and is more than happy to champion books that she has always loved and new discoveries that have come to light.
Hill is excited about reading a new book as she is about gleaning some elements from a favourite book that she has re-read a dozen times before. For her it is just the pleasure of reading, gaining that extra insight into what the author meant by a sentence. This enthusiasm comes across in the books that she talks about, she is opinionated and knows what she wants from a book. She is one of those authors who is very well known, however, I must admit that I have never (yet) read her works of fiction. The only book of hers that I have read is Howard’s End is on the Landing, another book about books. This I think has the edge on that one, which was about her reading the books that inhabited her home over the course of a year. This is a more contemplative and thoughtful discourse of the books that made her literary landscape for the year.
One of the things that worked for me in this book, is that she is prepared to talk about the books she liked and loved as well as those that weren’t quite what she had hoped for. It would never work if we all liked the same books. My favourites would not be yours and vice versa, but with all books, there should be overlap and more importantly points for discussion too. She donates generously to libraries, a resource under threat in this country at the moment, seeing the good that they do in the communities that she has lived. Almost as an afterthought are glimpses of the natural world around her, the rare sight of a bittern, the geese that race overhead onto places far away. If you like to read books about books, then you cannot beat a writer talking about the books that she reads and the list of books mentioned in the text at the back of the book was really useful.