Howard’s End is on the Landing

What an unusual title for a book! What on earth can it mean? Well, part of the problem is an intentional ambiguity in how book titles are traditionally indicated. One rule states that a book title that is mentioned inline should be italicized. Another (unrelated) rule states that italics within italics are actually de-italicized. For instance, if a phrase or sentence that is italicized for emphasis happens to include a book title, then that title is not in italics. So far, so good. But what happens when the title of one book includes the title of another book within it. That’s what happens here: the title tells us that Howard’s End is on the landing. Now it finally makes sense.

Susan Hill is a British author of both fiction and non-fiction books. This is a “book about books”: Hill decided to spend a full year checking no books out of the library and buying no new ones, just catching up on the many books she already owned and hadn’t read (or hadn’t re-read, if that was what was needed). A sub-goal of hers was one of those desert-island things: selecting the 40 books that she couldn’t do without if she had to keep only 40. Her selection is, to put it mildly, idiosyncratic — at least it seems so from my POV, perhaps because she’s very British or because she’s very Christian. The title refers to a fact that I can easily identify with: she has so many books that they’re scattered all over her house and she often can’t find what she’s looking for. She was trying to find Howard’s End, and it turned out to be on the landing. That, at least, is the literal meaning of the title.

Anyway, despite Hill’s odd choices — odd to me, I mean — and despite the occasionally excessive name-dropping — I found this book well worth reading.

Categories: Books