Wednesday, February 08, 2006

BOOKS: A Blogger's Blogger

Shhh... don't tell my good pal the Baco-Vegetarian this, but I've always been skeptical about writers who don't read. And by my own highly suspect and subjective reckoning, non-fiction doesn't count.

See, the thing is, the B-V is actually quite a good writer, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that he doesn't read real books. (Sorry. Should I have said "real" books?) It just doesn't seem... right, somehow. Which is why I'm always gratified to hear about writers whom I like who also happen to share my reading habits. I'm too old to have my assumptions challenged. It makes me cranky and irregular.

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby (#4)
Much as I love Nick Hornby (to the extent that I even tried to read Fever Pitch, despite the fact that it's (a) non-fiction, and (b) about soccer football), I have to admit that this collection of Hornby's essays from The Believer blew right past me when it was released. Thankfully, I'm a regular visitor to Exxie's Book Lounge, where I happened across her excellent review, which immediately convinced me to rush out and pick this up.

The book jacket describes this as "a hilarious and true account of one man's struggle with the monthly tide of the books he's bought and the books he's been meaning to read." If that doesn't convince you to read it, might I add that in Anastasia Krupnik fashion, Hornby prefaces each month's essay with lists: one of the books he bought that month, and one of the books he read. Aha. I got you with the lists, didn't I?

Not only is this collection ripe with eclectic book recommendations and the types of acute observations about reading that made my heart sigh, "Finally, someone understands me," Hornby's writing is, in and of itself, delightful. You've heard the phrase "a writer's writer." Hornby is a blogger's blogger. His essays are wonderfully circuitous, rambling, self-referential, and peppered with fantastic insights, wicked turns of phrase, and moments of surprising beauty... in short, as bloggy as all get-out.

An example? Here you go:
Books are, let's face it, better than everything else. If we played cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go fifteen rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form had to offer, then books would win pretty much every time. Go on, try it. The Magic Flute v. Middlemarch? Middlemarch in six. The Last Supper v. Crime and Punishment? Fyodor on points. See? I mean, I don't know how scientific this is, but it feels like the novels are walking it. You might get the occasional exception -- Blonde on Blonde might mash up The Old Curiosity Shop, say, and I wouldn't give much for Pale Fire's chances against Citizen Kane. And every now and then you'd get a shock, because that happens in sport, so Back to the Future III might land a lucky punch on Rabbit, Run; but I'm still backing literature twenty-nine times out of thirty.
If I dare to disagree with anything, it's only to quibble and mention that I'd back Pale Fire against Citizen "Overrated" Kane any day of the week. (Am I trying to start trouble here? Mayhap I am.)

Do I recommend this collection? Most heartily. If circuitous, rambling, self-referential talk about reading is what you dig -- and I can only assume you do, because you're here -- I give 1:1 odds you'll love this book.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, dear. Non-fiction isn't real reading? Oh, dear. I will respectfully disagree with your highly subjective point. A well-written biography, a well-researched history, well, lawsamercy, they thrill me way more than a predictably plotted and indulgent novel ever will. I find real people more compelling than made-up ones, is all.

Doppelganger said...

Doh! I should clarify that non-fiction is all well and good (I read some myself), but my own (again highly subjective) opinion is that if a writer purports to write fiction, they should also read fiction.

No ill feelings?

Jagosaurus said...

I assumed that is what you meant, Doppleganger, and agree with you. I read nonfiction almost exclusively but were I trying to write fiction, I would devour every bit of fiction I could get my hands on. For lack of a better way of expressing it, it helps put me in the mood. To write fiction, that is. Ahem.

Gayle said...

I may never have read a non-fiction book in my life. Well, except, like, technical and academic stuff. I don't get the thrill from reading about real people.

I like my fiction to FEEL like history, but to not actually BE history. Stuff "based on a true story" even skeeves me out, because it's usually something disturbing, and I hate the fact that this stuff actually happened to a real person.

I like my escapism to be an escape from the real world. I always feel like people might think I'm a bit of a fraud, because it seems the hoity-toity readers all read non-fiction. But I just don't get it.

And man it's hard to be coherent in this teeny little comment box.

meredithkb said...

So, I actually just read Pale Fire on your recommendaiton and I heartily agree: it could take Citizen Kane.

I think this particular comparison demonstrates one of the reasons why books will always do so well in these "fights": namely, books age better. Citizen Kane has lost its luster over the years -- it no longer feels revolutionary, in fact, it seems kind of cliche because it has been copied so many times and its innovations have all become cliches. But Pale Fire, which is roughly the same age, is still just jaw-droppingly fantastic.

landismom said...

Wow, I missed this one too. I'll have to pick it up!

Exxie said...

Oh, I'm so glad you loved it! Someone understands us!

Arford said...

I read this book in one sitting, in the passenger seat of a car on the way to Seattle from Ashland, OR. I irritated my girlfriend to no end, because I kept laughing and reading bits aloud to her while she drove. But then, I'm a total sucker for anything Hornby writes, especially his non-fiction.

I don't recognize the names of any of the players (or most of the teams, for that matter) that Hornby discusses in Fever Pitch, but I've read it some 5-6 times anyway. I've never read another book that so perfectly captures the psyche of the self-aware male sports fan.

vestra said...

I just had to delurk to say that I also loved, loved this book, and actually quoted that exact same passage in my livejournal when I was talking about it.

Love your blog, love books-yay!