Sunday, 9 December 2012

116/111 - The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

I've read a couple of Nick Hornby's books before and after downloading the sample of this book on iBooks, I decided to go for it. I felt like I could do with a little inspiration for books, and that this would be a good place to start (I also bought Howard's End Is On The Landing by Susan Hill).

This book is a compilation of magazine columns that Nick Hornby has written for The Believer magazine, and is more a book about reading than a book of reviews. I enjoyed it a moderate amount, in that I found a lot of truth in how he conveys his book reading and buying habits, however my enjoyment was a little stunted because I had not read most of the books he talks about, and so a lot of the text didn't have much relevance to me (although I did find a few good recommendations!).

Nick talks about his haphazard reading habits, and how nothing ever seems to be read in any particular order. I related to this because I tend to read something in a certain vein and then blast through a whole bunch of other things that are similar to it, like the Young Adult kick I went on a few months ago, or the post-apocalyptic phase, or the non-fiction phase. It also tends to affect my buying habits, in that I'll read something and then feel suddenly compelled to go and buy a whole load of other books in the same arena to keep my momentum in that subject going.

I found the book to be really funny in places, much like the other stuff I have read, and like I said, for me it had a lot of truth to it.

1. I liked his attitude of not being snobby with the kinds of books you read. I like to read feminist theory, but I also like to read Stephen King, and ghost stories.

2. I agree that reading can sometimes be a disappointing experience, which is why I also agree that you should never force yourself to finish a book you're not enjoying, not like I had to when I was an English Lit student.

3. I laughed at the idea of putting certain books in a book graveyard of sorts, where at a certain point you really need to admit that the possibility of ever reading certain books should be abandoned as it's never going to happen. I feel this way about a lot of books.

4. I also understood and laughed at the compulsion Nick feels to buy books. I get that feeling a lot in bookshops, that I simply must buy this book, right now, even though I'm reading something else at the moment and probably won't get around to reading this book for several weeks, if not months, and already have dozens of other books waiting to be read. Doesn't matter - I need to have that book now.

I also laughed when he referenced Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, which is a mammoth book I had to read not once, but TWICE while I was at university - once in my first year and once more in my final year. I had hated it so much that I had blocked out almost everything I had learned and so had to re-read the blasted thing. I hate hate HATE Victorian literature. In fact in this book, Nick makes a great point that one of the reasons that authors like Dickens wrote such laboriously long novels was that they were paid by the word and they also serialised novels back in the day, so there was no benefit to being concise, or cutting out superfluous characters, and so you're left with these huge monolithic novels which I take absolutely no pleasure in reading. Makes me shudder to think of those ghastly novels which put me off reading so much when I was a student. Ridiculous.

In summary: good book, lots of interesting stuff.

1 comment:

  1. (Hello Cassie, long time no speak!)
    I very much liked Nick Hornby's attitude to many things in this book - it's too long ago now for me to remember how many of the books discussed I'd actually read. I think the compulsion to buy books is one all avid readers share, and it's true there's no logic to it, and I often try to control the urge - question myself as to exactly what I think I will get from a particular book - but it's all too often true as well that there's no fighting it.

    I very much liked NH's comments on concision, but I recall them as being something of an attack on the modern mania for 'spare' writing - the idea that the quicker a book is over, the better it is. Compare this with Orhan Pamuk's favourite thing to hear from readers: 'I hope your next book will be a really big one!' I didn't get on with Daniel Deronda, either, but I love a lot of Victorian literature, and I love the doorstop Dickens better than the (supposedly mostly better) shorter ones.

    Oddly I have three times failed to make it through Bleak House, reputedly the best of them all. Once I got 600 pages in and had to give up. For some reason that one just irritates the living shit out of me. My book graveyard now includes that, along with Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow, and any book where the games the author is playing are more important than the story and the characters.

    On forcing oneself to finish a book; I have done so at least twice, with The Secret Agent and The Scarlet Letter, and in the latter case especially I really didn't regret it; I hated TSL all the way up until the final three chapters, and then I loved it so much I wanted to read it again straight away. (I didn't, of course - who has the time?) So, you never can tell, but I wouldn't argue with anyone who gave up a book that wasn't giving them any pleasure.

    Thank you for this post. Having found this blog, I shall investigate further...