I discovered Nick Hornby by accident when I picked up the The Polysyllabic Spree, the first of the three collections of his book criticism originally written for the Believer magazine. He followed Spree with Housekeeping vs. the Dirt and ends (unfortunately) with Shakespeare Wrote for Money. The title is a throw away line from the book but is also classic Hornby. This little demythifacation (is that a word?)of the Bard tells us that Hornby realizes that any writer is first, a person (like himself) who struggles to get words on paper in a satisfying order, with narrative arc and skill, who is also trying to Say Something worth reading. And, maybe, make a living. There is not an ounce of oracular pronouncement, not a whit of assuming he is better read than you or I (but, of course, he is) and he jabs at High Literary Merit criticism on a regular basis. Hornby is funnier than you and I are, in that dry British way I can only envy. Barred, he says, from saying anything unkind about any writer, he still manages to point out that some books, while they may deserve to be printed (writers need to eat, after all), do not deserve to be discussed. His enthusiasms can be enormous, but they are replaced (or augmented) a month or two later with a new enthusiasm. He takes time off to root for Arsenal (his home team), tease his friends (Sarah Vowell comes up), smoke and to be thrilled and a teeny bit jealous of the writers who conquer narrative arcs, effective language and insight. He ranges through 'literary novels', mysteries, graphic novels,political history and current events,genre benders and anything else that catches his eye.
If you can say with honesty that you have been known to read three or four books a month, pick up these far too short collections and get some tips from a guy you'd want to have a beer with. Maybe two. Bring a pencil, because you'll want to remember some of his recommendations.