Books acquired: none
Books read: “Howards End,” E.M. Forster; “Howards End is on the Landing,” Susan Hill; “Then We Came to the End,” Joshua Ferris
Are the end times here? They were for me in July, when my three books all had the word “end” in them. Two, in fact, had “Howards End” in them. How meta.
I’m an admirer of Forster’s work, having enjoyed “A Passage to India” in college and “A Room With a View” three years back.
“Howards End” is his best known. In short, three families from different social classes intersect in ways both comic and tragic. It’s an examination of the difference money and privilege, both financial and male, can make, and an ode to a pastoral England that seemed to be disappearing. If you don’t mind reading a book from 1910, this is a good one.
I bought it (at DTLA’s Last Bookstore, in 2013) shortly after buying Hill’s book (at Powell’s, in Portland), which I had seen that spring at the St. Louis Public Library and made a note to look for. It’s a book about books, as Hill, a literary celebrity in England (she wrote “The Woman in Black”), goes looking for her copy of “Howards End,” can’t find it, but in her search realizes she has a lot of books she’d forgotten about, or had never read. (She might be a distant cousin of this blog.)
She spends a year taking a fresh look at her collection, rereading old favorites and thinking of the associations they called up, sometimes because she knew the author. So there’s name-dropping, and some readers lose patience with this 2009 memoir for that reason, which is understandable. I liked it anyway.
And now we come to “Then We Came to the End,” a debut novel from 2007 about office life, a ripe but scarcely explored fictional subject, and written in the first person plural (“we”). That proves a witty way of reflecting the collective unconscious of a company’s employees. A Chicago advertising agency circa 2000 begins downsizing, leading to angst and desperation. The ensemble cast slowly reveals themselves to us as distinct individuals, the observations ring true and the hi jinx are balanced by heartache. And time and again, like when Tom Mota hides a piece of sushi in enemy Joe Pope’s office until it becomes rank as a corpse at a homicide scene, it’s laugh-out-loud funny.
I bought “…the End” at Powell’s in 2013 too. Oddly, my three books this month were bought in either September or October of 2013. I couldn’t resist reading “Howards End” the same month as “Howards End is on the Landing.” Another connection: Hill, as a mental exercise, winnows her collection to 40 keepers, listed at the end, while Ferris, in an appendix, lists around 50 of his favorites. There’s no overlap. I love lists like these, even if they’re slightly depressing — I’ve read six of Hill’s 40, and even fewer of Ferris’ 48.
In another tie, one book cited by Hill, “The Diary of Francis Kilvert,” of whom I’d never heard, is mentioned in a book I started over the weekend. “Ah, Kilvert’s ‘Diary,’ of course,” I could say to myself sagely.
And thus we’ve come to the end, ha ha, of another blog post. How was your July, readers? Did it end well?
Next month: a book that mentions Francis Kilvert, and more.