Sunday, December 26, 2004

Nick Hornby amuses me to tears and makes me feel lame all at the same time.

I just got finished reading The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, which I thought was really fantastic. No, this isn't a new novel by him, and yes, the title is a reference to the band The Polyphonic Spree , who you probably recognize as having done the soundtrack to the wonderful Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind .
This book is a collection of essays that Hornby wrote for a book review paper. It chronicles the books he bought, the books he read, and the books he failed to read during a 14 month span. As dry as that sounds, it's full of the hilarity that you expect from Nick Hornby. These aren't really book reviews per se, more like commentary about them. I feel completely lame, because Nick Hornby managed to read 60 some books over that period of time, PLUS work on new material, PLUS contribute to this book paper, PLUS be a father, PLUS be a die-hard fan and season ticket holder of Arsenal Football Club . I have a hard time reading 10 books a year, and I have infinitely more free time than Hornby. I don't know how he does it. There's where I feel lame.
Towards the end, I had to put the book down because I couldn't control my laughter nor see through the associated tears. For five solid minutes. It's rare that I really, really laugh out loud in general, but when I do, it's a doozy. In retrospect, I don't know if it was meant to be hilarious, but the following is the passage in question:

"I have been meaning to read a book about cricket for awhile, with the sole intention of annoying you all. I even toyed with the idea of reading only cricket books this entire month, but then I realized that this would make it too easy for you to skip the whole column; this way you have to wade through the cricket to get to the Chekhov and the Roddy Doyle. I'm presuming here, that very few of you have ever seen a cricket match, and if you have, you are almost certain to have been both mystified and stupified: this, after all, is a game that, in its purest form ... lasts for five days and very frequently ends in a tie: five days is not quite long enough to get through everything that needs doing in a cricket match, especially as you can't play in the rain"

One thing that I really like is that Hornby isn't terribly too high on the literary horse: in one month he proclaims that literature is better than everything, then the very next month, he admits that literature rarely gives you the buzz that a brilliant goal, or a great record gives you.

There was a good balance of books. Fiction, non-fiction, biography, letters, new stuff, classics. Honestly, most of them I had never heard of, but there was one piece of non-fiction that he lauded so much that I'll rush out to buy it. Random Family by Adrian LeBlanc was the only book that he talked about from that high horse. If we don't read this book, we are not good people, he says.

Anyway, at the end of it all, I couldn't help but think of Holden Caulfield's description of Ring Lardner:
"What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."

I wish Nick Hornby was a terrific friend of mine.

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