I bought this book, sight unseen, simply because of the description, which was: Nick Hornby, one of my favorite writers, had written a book about a bunch of his favorite songs. That's all I needed to know, that sounded great to me, I was sold.
I've been a Hornby fan since Fever Pitch. When High Fidelity (the book) came out, I was amazed: it felt like Hornby had been eavesdropping on my mind, because I tend to agree with a lot of his opinions about music and music lovers. Similarly, I'm a big fan of the reviews he wrote for The New Yorker a few years ago.
So I ordered the book and it showed up in my box and I immediately turned to the table of contents to see: which songs did he write about??? And I was surprised, and a bit disappointed, to see that I only recognized about a dozen of the titles. And there wasn't one song in the bunch that I considered a personal favorite. And when I listened to the songs I didn't know (included on a handy-dandy CD)... they didn't blow me away. But that's the beauty of a mix tape and, despite the fact that it's printed on paper, this is a mix tape.
And this one comes with great liner notes. Hornby's a smart, entertaining, intuitive writer. I may sound like a disappointed fan trying to make the best of a book that didn't satisfy me 100%, but even when Hornby's writing about music I haven't heard, it's still enjoyable, it's still worthwhile, it's still exposing me to things I previously didn't know about.
Even when he's confessing to not being a huge Dylan fan and confesses to preferring a Rod Stewart cover of one of my favorite Dylan songs to the original (which is, of course, the true road to enternal damnation), he does so in a way that's completely relatable even to a Dylan fanatic.
Even when he's extolling the virtues of a song I find to be "sad bastard" music (like he does in his essay about Mark Mulcahy's "Hey Self Defeater") he manages to include a great, conversational subtext about the virtues of small, privately owned, slowly-becomming-extinct record stores with a personal touch.
This is also a beautifully designed McSweeny book, with a beautiful "Maxell XL-II" mix-tape cover and with clever illustrations by Marcel Dzama. The book also benefits Treehouse Trust and 826 Valencia, organizations that are extremely worthy of the extra money.
Hornby should do one of these a year, I think. And next time, it'd be nice if he'd touch on his favorite Stones songs, his favorite Stax songs, his favorite Steve Earle songs, his favorite blues, his favorite jazz, his favorite Clash songs, etc, etc. If he'll write it, I'll read it.