Wednesday, March 05, 2008

'Housekeeping vs. The Dirt'

by Nick Hornby
Non-Fiction/Essays, 2006 (originally published in the Believer magazine, February 2005 - July 2006)
Believer Books, pb, 133 p.
In his latest collection of essays, critic and author Nick Hornby continues the feverish survey of his swollen bookshelves, offering funny, intelligent, and unblinkered accounts of the stuff he’s been reading. Ranging far and wide from the middlebrow, Hornby’s dispatches from his nightstand serve as invaluable guides to contemporary letters, with revelations on the intellectual scene and English football in equal measure.

Printed monthly in the Believer, Hornby’s book reviews are suffused with wit, ire, and loving insight, and his choices often strike into the deeper, odder reaches of the literary world. He is as adamant about the experience of reading a book as he is about the importance of the book itself, and can be trusted to point out which books are ridiculously unfunny, which books can be read incognito for their naughtiness, and, most urgently, which books can bring themselves “all the way through the long march to your soul.”
What book lover doesn’t like reading about books? This second collection of Nick Hornby’s 'Stuff I've Been Reading' column in the Believer magazine was just as much fun to read as the first one, The Polysyllabic Spree, if not more. I’m not always interested in all the books he reads or mentions but it’s enjoyable to read about his reading adventures nonetheless. I have actually already read, own or at least have heard of several of the titles he talks about but in some cases it was a nice reminder of books I’d seen before but hadn’t gotten around to. As he’s still writing the column, I look forward to when the next bound edition is published and adding more books to my wishlist.

Here are some of the titles that I noted down to look out for:
Every Secret Thing – Laura Lippman
“’s gripping in a quiet, thoughtful way…” (p. 30)
How to Be Lost – Amanda Eyre Ward
“…it has that lovely tone that only American women writers seem to be able to achieve: melancholic, wry, apparently (but only apparently) artless, perched on the balls of its feet and ready to jump either toward humor or toward heartbreak, with no run-up and no effort.” (p. 54)
Penguin Special – Jeremy Lewis
“Jeremy Lewis’s biography of Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, is a tremendous piece of social history...” (p. 70)
Only in London – Hanan Al-Shaykh
“Hanan Al-Shaykh was one of the authors I met on a recent trip to Reykjavik, and her lovely novel Only in London was a perfect reflection of the woman: surprising, fun, thoughtful.” (p. 106)
Death and the Penguin – Andrey Kurkov
“Death and the Penguin turns out to be fresh, funny, clever, incredibly soulful and compelling, and the penguin turns out to be a triumphant creation. I might only read books about animals from now on.” (p. 113)

Some quotes I enjoyed:
We often read books that we think we ought to read, or that we think we ought to have read, or that other people think we should read (I’m always coming across people who have a mental, sometimes even an actual, list of the books they think they should have read by the time they turn forty, fifty, or dead); I’m sure I’m not the only one who harrumphs his way through a highly praised novel, astonished but actually rather pleased that so many people have got it so wrong. (p. 13)

Reading for enjoyment is what we should all be doing. I don’t mean we should all be reading chick lit or thrillers (although if that’s what you want to read, it’s fine by me, because here’s something else no one will ever tell you: if you don’t read the classics, or the novel that won this year’s Booker Prize, then nothing bad will happen to you; more importantly, nothing good will happen to you if you do); I simply mean that turning the pages should not be like walking through thick mud. The whole purpose of books is that we read them, and if you find you can’t, it might not be your inadequacy that’s to blame. “Good” books can be pretty awful sometimes. (p. 17)

Anne Tyler is the person who first made me want to write: I picked up Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant in a bookshop, started to read it there and then, bought it, took it home, finished it, and suddenly I had and ambition, for the first time in my life. (p. 69)
Interesting factoid (from wikipedia):
Hornby is an alumnus of Jesus College, Cambridge, where there is a room named after him.

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#7 for 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Dog Ear Diary


  1. I just love Nick Hornby. He seems so unpretentious, so genuine. That second quote you shared is fantastic.

    I really really have to read this.

  2. I loved this book too. My favorite quote was that one you shared about reading books we enjoy! so much more fun!

  3. Nymeth- He does seem like just a regular guy, whatever that means exactly! It's not very long, I'm sure you could slip it into your reading somewhere.

    Jeane- I do like reading award winners sometimes and classics but it's a good thought to keep in mind when something becomes a chore to read.

  4. I am yet to read a book by Nick Hornby. Your review made me want to check out this book rightaway.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Great quote, "turning the pages should not be like walking through thick mud." I love that. I have The Polysyllabic Spree on my shelves and just haven't gotten to it. I have a feeling it will be a fun read.

  6. I wasn't sure if I'd read this one after I read The Polysyllabic Spree...not because I didn't like TPS, but I can't ever mooch it and I rarely buy new books these days. HOWEVER, you've tempted me to the max. I think I must have it.

  7. A Reader from India- The only fiction book of his that I've read is About a Boy. I probably should try another at some point.

    Iliana- I like that quote too and must try to remember it if I'm struggling to read something.

    Andi- Hopefully a reasonably priced one will cross your path! :)

  8. Les sent me over here because she knows I love Hornby's writing, and I'm so glad she did. This is an excellent review, and I now plan to buy the book. This quote alone would make it worth reading:

    Reading for enjoyment is what we should all be doing... The whole purpose of books is that we read them, and if you find you can’t, it might not be your inadequacy that’s to blame. “Good” books can be pretty awful sometimes. (p. 17)

    How often I read someone's book review and that person almost apologizes for not liking a book 'everyone' seems to have adored. Reading is so personal, and one of the few pure pleasures in life. It comes with no orders, no musts, no shoulds.

    Thank you so much for a wonderful piece. I'll be spending more time here.

  9. I love Nick Hornby and tossed this title onto my wish list the day I heard it was soon to be released. Still haven't gotten a copy. Someday . . .

  10. Nan- Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad Les sent you.
    If you haven't read The Polysyllabic Spree I'd definitely recommend that one too. That quote is one I'll have to remember if I'm struggling with something or mistakenly feeling guilty for picking up something light.

    Nancy- I've had for quite a while. I think I got it soon after it was released but I only now got around to reading it. Oh well I'm sure Hornby himself would understand. :)


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