on 2 September 2015
More of Nick Hornby's wonderfully entertaining columns from The Believer. This is in effect a sequel to his, The Polysyllabic Spree. It consists of his exhilarating, thoughtful and frequently very funny thoughts on literature (not that he is impressed much by literature with a capital L), books in general, life, and occasionally, I'm afraid, football.. You could argue that he is sometimes constrained by The Believer's strictures on not being unkind to anybody. But he cunningly gets around this minor obstacle in various ways and manages to slip in the occasional good kicking to some author who has irritated him (usually through pomposity or pretension), without The Believer's enforcers noticing what he is up to.
A Brilliant read!
on 12 January 2014
This book left me annoyed and disappointed: annoyed because the person who gave it as a recent gift thought they were on the money for me with "the latest Nick Hornby book", and disappointed because ever since I apparently forgot that I gave Hornby permission to write my biography in 'High Fidelity', I have had a soft spot for his writing. Even went to a book signing when he was in town.
'Stuff I've been reading' is a collection of his columns over the 5 years 2006-2011. To call it an anthology is too grand, and it really is more simply a book catalogue - without the cover pics - interspersed with the Opinions of Nick. These opinions are undeveloped - more a sort of 'oh, so that's just what you think?' aftertaste, and while one is occasionally excited that he seems to be getting up a head of steam for some proper writing, it usually peters out into 'not much to see here'.
If you know the titles that he mentions, then the warmth of recognition will wash over you, as will also occur with Hornby's stock-in-trade, Tarantino-without-the-gore pop cultural references. If you have never heard of a book title that he mentions, then you will come away not much the wiser, with no true synopsis most often provided. The best that can be hoped for is that your interest might be piqued by his shallow discussion around the work, which is perhaps all that one can expect given the origin of this book as an occasional column rather that a fully developed tome. One could surf the Amazon book site to achieve the same more efficiently.
Aggregated columns re-packaged in a book format often seem a cynical exercise, trying to wring a bit more cash out of old material, and this one is no exception. The problem is these exercises by-and-large don't work (except for extracting the aforesaid cash). Take anything by Jeremy Clarkson, the recent radio transcripts of Clive James ('A Point of View'), or even Christopher Hitchens' 'Arguably'. For a start, by the time the book is published, the content is all dated and heading for irrelevancy. (Hitchens suffers less in this regard because his material often has a gravitas and ongoing relevance because so many of the issues he covers remain unresolved, but 'Arguably' is vastly less satisfying than his more coherent work). But the sort of evanescent, faux stream-of-consciousness writing that characterises the more light-hearted stuff only works when it pops up in a newspaper or on radio because it is a solitary bright spot of light relief in the sea of Sturm and Drang that makes up daily news and current affairs. Lifted out of that context, it becomes relatively less amusing, and, in a continuous form such as a book, really just unsustainable.
Hornby urges two really useful bits of advice (so he gets some stars), neither of which, he admits, are originally his: firstly, to read randomly, and yes, I will be picking up at least two of the books he mentions; secondly, that it is OK not to finish a book you have started. That assuaged my guilt, because honestly, I couldn't finish this.
As Hornby himself would attest, there are too many good books out there to waste time reading catalogues.
on 8 March 2015
"Reading journeys are still the richest, most stimulating and the cheapest journeys of all, and you don't even have to go anywhere, apart from inside of your own head".
This was a quote I really enjoyed from Hornby's introduction to this latest collection of reviews and recommendations. For me this wasn't a patch on "The Complete Polyphonic Spree". I still chased up a few good recommendations through this though and he is always enjoyable company, though I have to say I wasn't too convinced with some of his YA recommendations.
on 8 May 2014
On dipping into Nick Hornby's Stuff I've Been Reading I found it quite stimulating at first, with interesting pages about the young adult genre in fiction, or a book about austerity Britain, or on Patti Smith's autobiographical "Just Kids". Other entries however prove less good. It is therefore on the whole likable if patchy at times. pretty good