It's not that the plots aren't great, because they definitely are. In the first story, "Otherwise Pandemonium", the old rite-of-passage chestnut is given a good roasting, and in the second, "Not a Star", a mother discovers a big secret of her son's. They might not seem that special from my descriptions, but both yarns are fun and gripping. Right, the plots are great, you just have to trust me on that. But the real appeal of these two stories, both written in the first-person perspective, is the way in which they flawlessly convey the personality of the characters telling them. The fifteen-year old male protagonist of the first story is just as real and believable as the forty-something woman telling the latter one. There's something utterly delightful in the way their voices bounce off the page, giving me an instant sense of who these people are.
They're human. Obvious, yeah? Not really - as a reader, watcher, listener I've felt that too many storytellers fail to instil their tales with that quality of life simultaneously the most mundane and extraordinary: humanity. Hornby brings this quality in spades, as is his wont (see "31 Songs", his collection of writing on music). Authors like Nick Hornby are to be valued, because they make us remind us of ourselves. If that makes sense.
Though "Otherwise Pandemonium" is a reprint (from the McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales anthology, a stellar collection of weird tales), the all-new "Not a Star" is reason good enough to buy this volume. In fact, I recommend that you buy it, put it away, and save it for a day you're feeling really low. Reading "Not a Star" will make it all better.