On the surface I have little in common with Nick Hornby.
First, the sports thing. Every year I move into the back room for three weeks so I can miss the World Series, the Superbowl, and March Madness; Hornby indicates he is a soccer fan (Fever Pitch). I don’t hang out in record shops (High Fidelity, About a Boy, etc.). I have not stood on a roof on New Year’s Eve (A Long Way Down), nor followed my husband to a restroom in a bar in Minneapolis where his favorite rock star decided to retire from his career (Juliet Naked).
But I do read a lot, and after I learned that my family had bought my birthday gift at the Hy-Vee, I posted a list of books for them to buy, among them Hornby’s More Baths Less Talking, the fourth collection of his book columns from The Believer.
I loved his three previous collections, The Polysyllabic Spree, Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, and Shakespeare Wrote for Money, and to quote my own blog( March 22, 201o):
They made me laugh so hard I hurt…. I would want to quit after reading one column and then read just one more…and then one more. He begins each essay with lists of Books Bought and Books Read, and of course they’re seldom the same books. So I’d laugh away and I’d marvel at his insights.
More Baths Less Talking has many hilarious moments. It is part of Hornby’s comic columnist’s persona to complain sporadically about the “Spree,” as he refers to the editors of the Believer, who insist on good reviews. (N.B. The editors announce on their webpage that they “will focus on writers and books we like.” They say they give writers “the benefit of the doubt.”)
Hornby says at one point that even the Spree might admit that there are one or two blogs out there without literary merit. (That did make me laugh.)
In a quote I found in a newspaper, he says he changed his way of reading so he could write about books he likes.
” As a consequence, the first thing to be cut from my reading diet was contemporary literary fiction. This seems to me to be the highest-risk category – or the highest risk for me, at any rate, given my tastes.”
Hornby begins his new book by mentioning his return to the magazine after an 18-month hiatus, during which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay for the movie, An Education, and presumably did some other things.
It’s never easy, returning home after failing to make one’s way in the world. When I left these pages in 2008, it was very much in the spirit of “Goodbye, nerdy losers! I’m not wasting any more time ploughing through books on your behalf! I have things to do, places to go, people to see!” Ah, well. What can you do if the people don’t want to be seen?
His short reviews are linked by his universal, sometimes whimsical, sometimes edgy observations about family life, love, music, and other interests, and though I tend to think that anybody as popular as Hornby must be much less ordinary than he pretends to be, I very much enjoy his style and humor.
On the other hand, I don’t read the books he reads. I just like to read what he thinks.
For example, when he writes about John Heilman’s Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, he says:
Maybe some of you know politicians. Maybe you hang out with them, went to school with some of them, exchange Christmas cards with them. I’m guessing not, though. Politicians tend not to hang out with you, almost by definition. typically, someone interested enough in the arts to read The Believer has spent a lot of times doing things that disqualify you not only from a career in politics, but from even knowing people who have a career in politics.
Very well-said, and I love the anaphora. It is also true that none of my friends became politicians.
Among the books Hornby reads that I’ll never read (most of which have colons in the title): Carl Wilson’s book on Celine Dion, Let’s Talk about Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, and Andrew Brown’s Fishing in Utopia: Sweden and the Future That Disappeared.
Books I will read (or reread): Muriel Spark’s complete oeuvre; Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: Or, a Life of Montaigne and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (I love it that Hornby admits he can’t read Montaigne); and Nina Bawden’s The Birds on the Tree.
After reading Hornby’s assertion that we need read only one biography of Dickens in our lifetime (I read the Ackroyd), I remembered that I have a copy of John Forster’s The Life of Charles Dickens: The Illustrated Edition. It’s a very attractive picture book that weighs 5.1 pounds.
My criticism of More Baths is that it has fewer fiction reviews than did the other books (I think). It is very enjoyable, though.
I agree with Hornby that you should read what you want to read.
This seems a good time to announce a Moratorium at Frisbee on Accepting Free Books from Publishers. Nobody is beating down my door to give me books, but I did say yes to a few, and now I have a pile of 25 (free!) books in my bedroom which I may never read. I climb over it to set my alarm clock. I did not realize how many had accumulated until the other day I tripped over them.
I like getting mail, and I got carried away with email.
And when the book arrives, everybody is incredulous: Really? You’re going to write about it for your blog? They gave it to you for that?
I know, I know.
I am sorry that I won’t have time to read most of these this year. In the next few months I plan to read three I received in 2010. (Yes, I know.)
So, luv ya! but please, pleas send your free books to other bloggers.