26 March 2006

The Polysyllabic Spree, by Nick Hornby

If this blog ever became a book, would you buy it? I mean, I'm no Nick Hornby, but c'mon, it'd be pretty good toilet or bedside reading, eh?

Nick Hornby is an extremely likeable guy. I mean, I've never met him, but judging by his books, he seems like someone you'd love to have a drink with. His writing is a treat, though it's not quite as good as one wishes it was. Much as I like his fiction, it has this unfortunate characteristic, that it's great great great and then, when there's about 50 pages left, it loses steam. Suddenly, the pace speeds up, problems are hastily resolved, and the book is over. It's as though he just got sick of the thing and wanted it to end as quickly as possible. This is most clear in How To Be Good, where he sets up a problem, realizes about halfway through that he has no good ideas as to how it can be solved, tries out a few things, and then just kind of gives up. Alas.

This book doesn't suffer from anything like that, but even so, it seems to work in fits and starts. The Polysyllabic Spree is an enjoyable collection of articles written for The Believer in which he chronicles the books he's purchased, and the books he's read, in a given month. Some months are wonderful, some are a bit halfhearted. He throws in a lot of other random thoughts about daily life, the publishing world, his job, etc, which are sometimes great, but sometimes function more as padding than anything else. When he's on, he's on - for instance, when he describes feeling compelled to buy a book because it had blurbs by Philip Roth and Helen Fielding, and then imagines what a book co-written by the pair would look like ("something bubbly and yet achingly world-weary, something diverting and yet full of lacerating and unforgettable insights about the human condition, something that was fun while being at the same time no fun at all, in a bracing sort of way") - it's glorious. But other parts sort of fall flat, or seem somewhat petulant and trite.

I read the book over the last month or so, little bits at a time just before faling asleep, or upon waking up in the morning, or when my brain was tired and I was idly sitting around. It's perfect for that kind of reading - I think it would lose a lot if read in one long session. It's good to have books like that around as a grad student, because one rarely has the time to just sit down and read something purely for pleasure for hours, but one nonetheless needs a break sometimes, so books that can be read a little bit at a time, that won't suffer if left alone for a few weeks, are perfect. A collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, I might note, is also excellent for this kind of thing. And on that note, back to work...

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