Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Polysyllabic Spree (thoughts)

It's been awhile since my last post-I've been on a reading streak instead. So, plenty of reviews are lined up, but I thought I'd begin with this one.

I read Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree in a couple of hours. It's a collection of columns he wrote for a literary magazine over the course of a year about his reading habits. The subtitle pretty much sums it up: A Hilarious and True Account of One Man's Struggle With the Monthly Tide of the Books He's Bought and the Books He's Been Meaning to Read.

I have a feeling that a lot of bloggers will sympathise with that.

I hadn't read anything by Hornby before, so I wasn't prepared for just how funny he is. I was laughing out loud a lot of the time. I feel that my experience living in England made things a little funnier, but really people on both sides of the Atlantic will enjoy this book.

I can't recommend it highly enough: it's a quick read, and I only wish that it was much, much longer. Everyone should go out and read it. :D

Favorite Passages

So this is supposed to be about the how, and when, and why, and what of reading-about the way that, when reading is going well, one book that leads to another and to another, a paper trail of theme and meaning; and how, when it's going badly, when books don't stick or take, when your mood and the mood of the book are fighting like cats, you'd rather do anything but attempt the next paragraph, or reread the last one for the tenth time. (13)

I've got enough to read as it is, so my first reaction when someone tells me to read something is to find a way to doubt their credentials, or to try to dredge up a conflicting view from the memory. (Just as stone always beats scissors, a lukewarm "Oh, it was OK," always beats a "You have to read this." It's less work that way). (33)

Books are, let's face it, better than everything else. If we played Cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go fifteen rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form ad to offer, then books would win pretty much every time. Go on, try it. "The Magic Flute" v.
Middlemarch? Middlemarch in six. "The Last Supper" v. Crime and Punishment? Fyodor on points. See? I mean, I don't know how scientific this is, but it feels like the novels are walking it. (58)

Even if you love movies and music as much as you do books, it's still, in any given four-week period, way,
way more likely you'll find a great book you haven't read than a great movie you haven't seen, or a great album you haven't heard... (58)

Did you know that Dickens is estimated to have invented thirteen thousand characters? Thirteen thousand! The population of a small town! If you want to talk about books in terms of back-breaking labor, then maybe we should think about how hard it is to write a lot-long books, teeming with exuberance and energy and life and comedy. I'm sorry if that seems obvious, but it can't always be true that writing a couple of hundred pages is harder than writing a thousand. (75)

I don't mind nothing happening in a book, but nothing happening in a phony way-characters saying things people never say, doing jovs that don't fit, the whole works-is simply asking too much of a reader. Something happening in a phony way must beat nothing happening in a phony way every time, right? (113)

Zaid's finest moment, however, comes in his second paragraph, when he says that "the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more."
That's me! And you, probably! That's us! "Thousands of unread books"! "Truly cultured"! (124)


Just for me, here are the books that I now want to read because of Hornby: Pompeii by Robert Harris, Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller, The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathon Lemen, How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer, The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Old School by Tobias Wolff, Clockers by Richard Price, Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Presumed Innocent, Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton, Liars and Saints by Maile Meloy, So Many Books by Gabriel Zaid, A Star Called Henry.

[edited to add more tbr after catching up on blogs: The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland, Bernice Rubens]

3 comments:

Bybee said...

I was in a bookstore today. I looked for The Polysyllabic Spree, but all I found by Hornby was Songbook and A Long Way Down. Slight pout at the time, but now that I've read your excellent review, you could ride to town on my lower lip.

acquisitionist said...

Awesome review. I particularly enjoyed the quote about reading mood. Frustration at re-reading the same bit ten times over definitely signals to me that I should take a reading raincheck. Sounds like I'll have to read Hornby when I'm next in need of a laugh. You said Polysyllabic Spree was a collection of essays. For some strange reason they've put it in literary fiction at my work. I wonder why that would be so?

Nose in a book said...

This sounds great. I generally enjoy Hornby but each of his books is very centred around a particular subject and if it's not a subject I like it can be a bit tedious. I'll definitely look this one up.