'Jacob's Room is Full of Books - A Year of Reading'
by Susan Hill (Profile Books) 266 pp £12.99 hardback
Reviewed by Deborah Bathurst, Sherborne Literary Society
Susan Hill is a successful novelist, crime- and ghost-story writer and publisher, having founded The Long Barn press. She is also an avid reader and this is her second foray into non-fiction about books and reading. The first of these two books was ‘Howards End Is On The Landing: A Year of Reading from Home’ published in 2009. This successor is also a year of reading - so how do they differ?
The earlier book was devoted to re-reading the books which the author already has in the house. The chapters are organised in groups of authors or genres. Part of the focus is on the task of identifying 40 books that “I think I could manage with alone for the rest of my life”.
This book, published 8 years later, follows a diary format of 12 chapters from January to December. The books read are discussed and interspersed with descriptions of the weather and wildlife of the month wherever Hill happens to be. There are plenty of musings and pithy comments on diverse subjects such as creative writing courses, would-be writers who don’t read books, books that have stood the test of time and those that have not, books left behind in holiday cottages, literary prizes, copyright, kindles, comics, children’s books and the experience of being attacked by trolls on the internet.
This is a very personal book, written after a lifetime of prolific reading and writing. Susan Hill having been a successful published author since the age of 18, has met with a large number of well-known people especially in the literary world, some of whom are close friends, others acquaintances, others the results of chance meetings. But all the anecdotes add colour and interest to this conversational book. For such a prodigious reader there are surprising gaps in her reading, but she makes the point that her interest is in English literature of which her knowledge is very extensive.
The choice of title is intriguing. Virginia Wolf is an author Susan Hill has greatly admired from her youth, and in Woolf’s novel ‘Jacob’s Room’, Jacob is viewed indirectly from the perspectives of others. The books people enjoy reflect their diverse interests and browsing their bookshelves can be fascinating, but how much do they tell us about that individual? They are after all only one facet of the person. But we do learn significantly more about the author, as she gives us her views on many books as well as glimpses into some of the events in her life and the people she has met.
Jacob’s Room is Full of Books is a charming, enjoyable read, rich in suggestions as to other books worth reading, so something of a bookworm’s delight. There is a useful index of the books mentioned and the format means it can be dipped into as well as read from cover to cover. Published in time for the Christmas market, this is one that should be well-received by anyone who loves reading.