With Clarissa done, a whole bunch of books in progress, and some yummy new books to admire amongst the piles, what is a girl to do but read something new? Housekeeping vs. The Dirt by Nick Hornby could not have been more perfect. Light, chatty, funny book talk is hard not to enjoy. I liked Polysyllabic Spree back when I read that so figured I would like this one too. I was right.
I zipped through it in two days. What a joy to spend only two days with a book! The essays are a collection of Hornby’s Believer columns just like his previous essay collection. After Polysyllabic Spree I bought a copy of The Believer every month for a few months just to read Horby’s column. But oddly, I didn’t like them. Collect them together though and suddenly I can see his reading patterns and his jokes make sense, mostly, and instead of being brief monthly, sometimes over the top, bites of book notes, they become a sustained laugh over coffee for a couple of hours.
One of the things I appreciate most about Hornby is that he is not your average reviewer. He is a reader who happens to write a monthly magazine column about books. He’s just looking for something good to read and he doesn’t always read what is new and just published but ranges all over the place wherever his whims and recommendations from friends take him. I also love the list at the beginning of each essay of books bought that month and books read that month. Often there are more books bought than read and only once in a while do the books bought that month appear on the books read that month list.
In his introduction he talks about how writing about books for The Believer has changed the way he selects books to read. The magazine has an editorial policy that does not allow Hornby to say Book X is horrible, don’t read it. He will mention that he read an unnameable novel and hated it and describe his experience reading it, but he is not given liberty to say what that novel was. So his columns weren’t filled with unnameable novels, he had to come up with a plan:
My solution was to try to choose books I knew I would like. I’m not sure this idea is as blindingly obvious as it seems. We often read books that we think we ought to read, or that we think we ought to have read, or that other people think we should read (I’m always coming across people who have a mental, sometimes even an actual, list of the books they think they should have read by the time they turn forty, fifty, or dead); I’m sure I’m not the only one who harrumphs his way through a highly praised novel, astonished but actually rather pleased that so many people have got it so wrong. 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.
I have been feeling of late that I am too easily distracted by recent publications. Not that I always read them when they are recently published, but I do buy them. Then they sit for a few months or a year or two and I wonder after a while why it was I wanted so badly to read that book. So Hornby touched the chord of something I have been mulling over in regards to my 2009 reading plans.
Nonetheless, it has not stopped me from noting a few books he mentions that sound like I would like them. Hornby likes Michael Frayn and he makes his novels sound like fun. And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris made it to my list as did Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov and Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje. Mostly though, Hornby and I have different tastes. I have no interest whatsoever in reading The Dirt a Motley Crüe autobiography. But when the writing is entertaining, different tastes don’t matter all that much. And besides, it was refreshing to finish a book about books and not make huge additions to my own TBR list. I see there is now a third essay collection, Shakespeare Wrote for Money. No doubt, this will make it to my bookshelf one of these days.