"The Polysyllabic Spree"

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

Apparently Nick Hornby is best known for his novel "About A Boy", which I've never read, and for his work as a music critic, which I'm not familiar with. There are times when I wonder if there is any hope for me at all, but then I did find and read this one. I must admit I bought it based solely on the title. The Polysyllabic Spree. Say it - it's fun! It's quirky and smart sounding. I like saying things that sound smart. The word spree sounds reckless and slightly mad. I like saying things that sound reckless and slightly mad.

As it turns out, it's a book about books - the ultimate reader's genre - so maybe you can judge a book by it's cover, or it's title. Hornby wrote a monthly article for "Believer" magazine (published in California) and 14 of those essays from Sept 2003 to Nov 2004 make up this book, with a handful of book excerpts thrown in. Each month he listed the books he bought and the books he read, then wrote a little about each.

I recognized some of the authours he talked about, but very few of the titles, so it wasn't quite as much fun as it might have been. He's funny though and honest, if a bit coarse at times. The odd swear word is probably there because that's how he speaks and it's meant to be realistic. I just think writers can do better.

I like his down-to-earth attitude about reading; book snobbery does get tiresome. You don't have to like Tolstoy, Dickens, Joyce or any of them. You like what you like. As Anna Quindlen said in How Reading Changed My Life: "the uses of reading are vast and variegated and...some of them are not addressed by Homer" and "...reading has as many functions as the human body and...not all of them are cerebral. One is mere entertainment, the pleasurable whiling away of time." Read what you like; there are no rules.

Hornby admits that the beginning of football season had an "adverse effect on book comsumption". Maybe his confession will make it easier for the rest of us to admit that as much as we love books, they do sometimes have to submit to the stronger draw of other, non-literary, things like watching tv, socializing with real people or just sitting and looking at the sky. It's a relief to hear him say right out loud, on paper, that "boredom, and very occasionally, despair are part of the reading life." Yes. Some books are boring and different people will put that label on different books. There's no shame in being bored with any book. War and Peace had some great writing but some of it was almost terminally boring, so bad it has put me off Russian authours, possibly for life.

If a book about books sounds boring to you, it probably will be. But if you like that sort of thing you might find just what you're looking for in "The Polysyllabic Spree". It was rather fun.


Anonymous said...

I read this as part of the Rory list, and it really made my wishlist grow!

It was my first Hornby too, I've read a few since. err About a Boy, High Fidelity is a good one (so is the film actually).

Ordinary Reader said...

I must have a look at High Fidelity. Thanks!

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