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on 25 October 2007
I read through this book at my usual pace, walking the dog , on the train to work , waiting in the pub for friends, in the bath, waiting for pizza, basically the usual haunts of the book addict. This book articulated my relationship with books from the tendancy to over buy books given the constraints on my time to read them, to my hatred for plot-divulging revues (the irony isnt lost). Hornby's key critical capabilities are boosted by the limitations put on him by the editors of the magazine he writes the column for,i.e. no direct criticism of the writer or writing allowed. This makes for a really wonderful discourse on his relationship with the books he reads and his enthusiasm for the books he chooses to read is infectious. Beyond this though the humour is what makes this book special. I think even if you took away my constant empathy with the author (I walked around nodding my head as I walked into lamposts) the humour alone would have kept me captivated. Ironically enough the first lesson of the book is that life is too short to read books that you dont like , put them down, move on - a great piece of advice that I intend to keep with. However I must say the first pages of this book took a while to get going while the rapport and standing jokes matured. If I had followed the advice in that first chapter I would have missed out on one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read. Dont be put off by the fact that it is a book of articles (this was almost enough to turn me away from the start), but being a fan of the author's novels I decided to give it a go, absolutely no regrets.
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on 26 May 2005
This is a slim volume collecting essays Nick Hornby wrote from Dave Eggers's magazine the Believer. In these essays, produced monthly, Hornby chronicles his reading, telling us about books he's enjoyed and books he's struggled with, keeping a detailed record of what he's bought and what he's read (not always the same), and reflecting on the way life and reading interrelate. It's a fairly slight book, but there are some characteristically neat observations, and it's touched with Hornby's usual humanity. To me this is basically a bathroom book - something to read in five-page chunks - and it shouldn't be seen as either a literary manifesto or an important extension of Hornby's oeuvre. But it has made me check out writers I either wouldn't otherwise have read or hadn't even heard of, and that's always a pleasure.
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"The Complete Polysyllabic Spree" collects together the monthly "Stuff I've Been Reading" columns that Hornby wrote in The Believer magazine from September 2003 to June 2006. Each column is divided into "Books I've Read" and "Books I've Bought" which is genius because it shows the disparity between what's bought and what's read, something almost everyone who reads a lot can identify with. The big selling point for me is the number of times you find yourself thinking "I'm like that" when Hornby talks about a tedious novel wearing him down or loving a book you want to tell everyone about.

It's very lightweight material but hugely enjoyable for someone like me who loves to read and talk about books. It's fascinating to see a famous writer talking about books however The Believer has a cardinal rule - Thou Shalt Not Slag Off a Book - so you only get the good stuff, the books that he didn't finish are put down as "Anonymous Literary Novel".

There were so many books I ended up reading and loving thanks to Hornby's recommendations. "Citizen Vince" by Jess Walter, "Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi, "The Men Who Stare at Goats" by Jon Ronson, "Hangover Square" by Patrick Hamilton, and "Case Histories" by Kate Atkinson. There are extracts from some selected books in between the columns so you can have a taste of what Hornby's talking about.

There's also some classic Hornby humour in his encounter with "Excession" by Iain M Banks. "The urge to weep tears of frustration was already upon me even before I read the short prologue, which seemed to describe some kind of androgynous avatar visiting a woman who has been pregnant for forty years and who lives on her own in the tower of a giant spaceship...By the time I got to the first chapter, which is entitled `Outside Context Problem' and begins `(CGU Grey Area signal sequence file #n428857/119)' I was crying so hard that I could no longer see the page in front of my face." (p.176-77).

It also features an introduction with the most impassioned encouragement for reading I've read. Hornby is a very generous reader who does his best to empathise with the writer even if he feels the book had its weak points. He also voices concerns I've had about reading too many novels instead of tackling meatier non-fiction fare. He quickly moves back to fiction though after a few forays into non-fiction.

It's a fascinating journey into a reader's mind and the way one book leads to another as well as the way we look at books. Highly recommended even if you're not a Hornby fan.
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VINE VOICEon 9 April 2009
This is a collection of book reviews Nick Hornby wrote for an American magazine, which works on the principle that no snide or negative reviews are ever allowed. Hornby documents his reading in magazine article sized chunks as they were originally published. And he writes with his usual wit and warmth. The mark of a good book review is that it makes you want to go out, buy the books and read them, and this volume certainly does that. Eclectic and entertaining in its own right, it's a wonderful pointer to some terrific books, and if you take Hornby's advice, you will be a wiser and better person. Well, maybe not- but you will be a wiser and better reader, which is the next best thing.
What makes the collection exceptional is Hornby's musings on reading itself, his love of the process of reading and his hatred of pretension, which make his insight a fascinating contrast to literary critics in general, and which will make you think. I share his love of Dickens, and his aversion to "literary" poseurs, and though I often disagree with his judgements, I love his style and attitude.
He's not always right: for instance, regarding Iain Banks, he's quite simply wrong, and his inability to read science fiction speaks more about him than about the genre.
But I loved this book. it reminded me why I love reading itself, it made me laugh and left me wanting much, much more. I devoured it in a day, and so will you.

One for reading, and re-reading. A keeper.

And by the way, just in case you were wondering, he very neatly sidesteps the "no negative criticism" rule, amd leaves you in no doubt what he thinks about every text.He also manages to mention Arsenal a few times. But then, nobody's perfect!
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This book was bought for me as a birthday present shortly after I'd added it to my wish-list on Amazon. I like Nick Hornby's relaxed, chatty style, and was expecting this to do for books roughly what his 31 Songs did for music. I wasn't disappointed. For the most part, he uses his standard playfully passionate tone when writing about his reading, which is very entertaining; however, there are times (particularly near the start of the book) where he comes across as somewhat self-conscious about his tastes. In these passages, I was reminded of his shrill denunciation in "31 Songs" of anyone who didn't like Jackson Browne's "Late For The Sky" (as much as he did), which seems to miss the point of this sort of thing.

I was reading it to see if I agreed with his opinion of books which we'd both read, and to look out for interesting recommendations. Both of these expectations were more than met in this book, in spite of the way Hornby kicks against the restrictions placed on him by the editors of the original versions of these pieces - i.e. to never directly criticise an author or a book (he works around this by simply not finishing any book that he doesn't like, without giving its title).

I found one or two mismatches between the lists of books read and those discussed in the pieces, and it was somewhat distracting to find him referring to Christmas in his March column (presumably because of the time lag associated with the columns going into print). But overall, this was an pleasant read, with some nice insights into the communion that ought to exist between writer and reader.
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I write this review having woken up at 5.30 this morning and analysed the World Cup winners and doing my stats of which country won the most cups (Brazil obviously), what proportion of tournaments resulted in the home nation winning the cup (6 out of 19 of the tournaments)and finally which of the winning team has never won in its own country (it was Brazil who failed to win the cup in 1950 if you are wondering). That fact that I wasted 20 minutes of my life on this when I should have been asleep indicates that I share some of Nick Hornby's blokish concerns of listing and analysing often trivial stuff. I really enjoyed High Fidelity and Fever Pitch, books which most concern these tendencies. I also enjoyed About a Boy and How to be Good.

In view of this, I thought I would give this a go. I sorry to say I was a little disappointed. The fact that he was not allowed to say anything negative about any of the books, for me, makes the experience a bit bland. I am not sure that any of his insights have led me to want to read the books I haven't read so far. All I can say is that it went down easily and I have kept the book for reference in case any of the books I read in the future are discussed in this book.
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on 18 February 2014
In The Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby covers a variety of books and reviews most of them in a humorous way (even when his mood is slightly sombre or his review poignant) and there are some good excerpts from some of the novels he speaks about. The writing is fluid, lucid and intelligent throughout. The only minor writing quibble was the occasional, much-detested TO BE HONEST, a phrase that should be banned along with AT THE END OF THE DAY, but it didn't really detract from my reading experience. My only real problem, and the reason it didn't leave me completely fulfilled, is that most of the reviews were for books I would never read, nor want to; biographies, literary "classics", novels set in the 1300s, etc.

Maybe that makes him better than me--probably does--because he can read a wide range of stuff and like it, but it was kind of annoying, too, because I wanted to hear his opinion on authors I like, and he only mentioned two: Richard Price and Dennis Lehane. I would have liked his thoughts on many of the other novelists I enjoy, (which, I guess, is very selfish of me) but at the same time I wasn't bored reading the reviews on books I'd never read, and I'm sure for those who like biographies and literary classics such as Ulysses, they will probably find this book fascinating.

I guess if I wanted to be pedantic, the lack of disdain dampened the book a little. I only usually read the one and two star reviews when I go on Amazon. I check them before I read a book and after. I like to hear what people hated about a book, not what they liked. I don't care what they liked, unless, of course, their opinion vibes with mine. And Hornby is too nice. I guess, because he's got a career he doesn't want to lose by down-talking other authors. Luckily, I'm not in that position. I just think it would have been better if he was more scornful throughout, because on the rare occasions he did highlight an author's stupidity, I found myself relating to him more. Maybe that's because I'm an angry person.

Who knows?

Anyway, if you like the type of books he reviews then buy it. If you don't, then get it from eBay and read it anyway.
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Only because Hornby loathes Amazon reviewers, even the ones who write positive reviews. He doesn't say why, just hates 'em. Too bad. I won't hold it against him.

I love the idea for Polysyllabic Spree: list the books you've bought or borrowed in the past month, separately list the books you've read, then discuss. Nick Hornby writes a column for the San Francisco magazine The Believer (which I had been unaware of until reading Hornby's book) in which he does just that. The book compiles fourteen months worth of columns.

The columns read like a blog, with Hornby going off on tangents often, as you do when you talk about books. He doesn't really review many of the books he's read, because The Believer has strict rules against saying anything bad about a book. Their philosophy is that there are plenty of publications that will tell you about bad books and they want to use their space to let you know only about good books. So if Hornby buys or reads a book he doesn't like, he lists it without title as "unnamed literary novel" or "unnamed work of non-fiction." Even with this rather significant restriction, it's fun to read and compare Hornby's opinions with your own and to get suggestions for more books to read. The tangents are good too, especially those about his brother-in-law, Robert Harris (author of Pompeii, Fatherland, Enigma).

The title is apparently a play on the name of a "happy music" symphonic pop band from Dallas called The Polyphonic Spree.

And good news -- a new collection is coming this September, titled More Baths Less Talking: Notes from the Reading Life of a Celebrated Author Locked in Battle with Football, Family, and Time Itself.
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on 2 April 2007
For me one way of assessing how good a book is, is the length of time it takes me to finish it (I exclude War and Peace etc. from this sort of judgment). I finished this collection of Hornby's over a weekend. I like his honesty and his unpretentiousness and his humour. Even the chapter headings rang a bell i.e. books bought in a particular month in one column and the books actually read in a much shorter column. We've all been there.

Anyway, soon after finishing it, I ordered two of the books reviewed, put others on a list and recommended one to my daughter who doesn't read fiction a lot.
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on 18 July 2007
Put simply this is about the travails of a book addict writing about his 'addiction' for an American magazine, and emerging from the task with an understanding about the nature of buying, reading and criticizing books. This is very sharp and snappy stuff and makes you realize just how smart the ever humble Nick Hornby is.
One of the other great things about 'The Spree' of course is that it justifies every book addict's addiction and as such will act as a key piece of evidence when your book shelves finally collapse onto some poor soul and you need to defend yourself in a Tort case. Great stuff.
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