Saturday, August 29, 2009

'Shakespeare Wrote For Money'

by Nick Hornby
Non-Fiction/Essays, 2008 (pieces originally published in the Believer magazine between August 2006 and September 2008)
Believer Books, softcover, 111 p.
Two years of reading begat by more reading, presented in easily digestible, utterly hysterical monthly installments.
This is the final collection of Nick Hornby’s monthly column for the Believer magazine about the books he’s bought and the books he’s read.
I wish I could write book reviews like Nick Hornby! I fully enjoyed the two previous collections of his columns for the Believer magazine – The Polysyllabic Spree and Housekeeping vs. The Dirt - so I was very much looking forward to Shakespeare Wrote for Money. And it was just as funny, and witty, and sarcastic, and just so wonderfully bookish.
From Sarah Vowell's Introduction:
The fact that his Books Bought list is so often so different from his Books Read list makes his portrait of a real reader the most accurate I have ever seen. The hope! The guilt! The quest for shelving!
I didn’t actually jot down that many titles this time, but that’s because a lot of the ones I want to read but haven’t yet done so are already in my TBR piles. Reading his thoughts on them though only made me want to read them more. Especially amusing to read about this time around was his discovery of, and reaction to, YA fiction.
I see now that dismissing YA books because you’re not a young adult is a little bit like refusing to watch thrillers on the grounds that you’re not a policeman or dangerous criminal, and as a consequence, I’ve discovered a previously ignored room at the back of the bookstore that’s filled with masterpieces I’ve never heard of, the YA equivalents of The Maltese Falcon or Strangers on a Train. Weirdly, then, reading YA stuff now is a little like being a young adult back then: is this Vonnegut guy any good? What about Albert Camus? Anyone ever heard of him? The world suddenly seems a larger place.
But even the books that I’m probably not all that interested in, I still enjoyed reading about. Maybe it’s the sign of a hopeless book addict, but I think you’d agree, it’s just so FUN to read about other people’s reading experiences, especially when they’re written about so amusingly. The same could easily be said about book blogs. There’s a reason we’re all drowning in our feed readers.

I’m sad that he’s stopped writing the column and that this is the last collection, but as for his other books, since I’ve only read About a Boy, I suppose that means I still have some good reading to look forward to.
The annoying thing about reading is that you can never get the job done. The other day I was in a bookstore flicking through a book called something like 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (and without naming names, you should be aware that the task set by the title is by definition impossible, because at least four hundred of the books suggested would kill you anyway), but reading begets reading – that’s sort of the point of it, surely? – and anybody who never deviates from a set list of books is intellectually dead anyway. (p. 49)
Nick Hornby's blog
Nick Hornby's official website

First sentence: (August 2006) It’s been an unsettling couple of months.

Buy this book at: | | | |

My Rating: 4/5
(#44 for 2009, Non-Fiction Five Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
things mean a lot
Stainless Steel Droppings
an adventure in reading
If you've reviewed this title too, let me know and I'll link to it here.


  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one drowning in my TBR pile. Sometimes it feels like I should update the metaphor from small pond to ocean...there are just so. many. books. out there. Great review (though I'm a little bitter, as you've just added another text to my list...)!

  2. I really need to read this set of books. I love books about books. Thanks for the great review.

  3. Celi.a I know what you mean. I am drowing in my ocean as well and it feels like the Pacific ocean to me. Thankfully I am not into non-fiction so this won't torture me.

  4. I said in my post about The Polysyllabic Spree that it was the "book about books" that I was jealous I didn't write. I love his style!


  5. I too have really enjoyed all of Hornby's exploits in reading. He is one of us! Glad you liked it. I too am looking forward to reading more of his work. I particularly recommend High Fidelity.

  6. I reviewed the Hornby book here:

    Here it is if you can't access it:

    'I read a column a night, which was perfect for the amount of reading time I have these days. I laughed both aloud and within, which was most appreciated.

    'A highlight of this collection is Hornby's discovery of YA lit for the very first time and he loves it, discussing those YA books that he calls 'modern classics.'

    'In one column he reviews movies instead of books (very entertaining) and in his final column he reviews some books related to movies. ...

    'In his final column, he gave a few 'shout-outs' to books he read and greatly enjoyed since 2003 (which is when he started writing the "Stuff I've Been Reading" column) and one was to "How To Breathe Underwater." ... For that review alone (which was in 'The Polysyllabic Spree,' I say, "Thanks, Nick." '

  7. I've missed you so much, Nat! Your blog is a sight for sore eyes. I still haven't read anything by Hornby, not even his essay collections of which I have every one. I am glad to hear that this one lived up to the previous two.

    I hope you have a great week, Nat!

  8. I have to say that while I am a big Hornby fan, I don't think I'll be reading this one . I read 'The Complete Polysyllabic Spree' (full review, book 50 on my blog), and it didn't grip me anywhere near as much as his fiction does...

  9. I agree; reading about other people's reading experiences is always so interesting. I'm still heartbroken that he's not writing the column anymore!

  10. I loved his Polysyllabic Spree...made me feel much better about my book addiction!

  11. celi.a - Sorry about adding to your list! ;) There really are so many books, but I guess all we can do is just keep trying to read as many as we can.

    Moo - If you love books about books, then you'll definitely enjoy these!

    Harry - It's always kind of nice to read a review of a book that you DON'T want to read yourself. One less for the wish list! :P

    Lezlie - I know, I so wish I could write like him!

    mariel - Thanks for the link to your review. He really is one of us, isn't he? Thanks for the recommendation, that one seems to be a favourite of many.

    Teresa - I completely agree with you about How to Breathe Underwater. Who knows if we would've heard of it otherwise. Ahh, I'm going to miss these columns.

    Wendy - Thank you! It's so good to have you back in blogland! You really should read these essay collections, they're a real booklover's delight, plus it's easy to read one here and there. :)

    Tony - This one is pretty much more of the same so I can understand why you wouldn't want to bother. I'm definitely going to have to read more of his fiction.

    Nymeth - At least we still have his novels to look forward to!

    Staci - LOL. I know what you mean. :)

  12. Ugh! I REALLY need to get my hands on his non-fiction. I wonder how my used bookstore would classify this--maybe literary criticism? And I guess enjoying reading about books you might not actually pick up is a bit like blogging. Sometimes it's just the way a person talks about a book that is interesting.

  13. Trish - Exactly. Reading Hornby's columns about reading is just like reading the posts of some of my favourite bloggers. :)


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