callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

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What Shall I Read?

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby. I was given this book for my birthday and read it very fast for a non fiction book. Well I would; it’s about reading. Chapter by chapter NH lists the books he has bought that month and those he has read. So, having finished a chapter but seeing that in the next one he’s about to read David Copperfield, or Hangover Square, or Greil Marcus’s book on Dylan, I would think, ‘Oh, must see what he thinks of that,’ and read on. Fortunately he passes the David Copperfield test. In fact, he thinks Dickens the greatest novelist who ever lived. Way to go, Nick!

His approach to books is very much the Kingsley Amis one: they are there to be enjoyed. He likes the ‘what next’ factor and is sceptical of the ‘literary novel’ which puts style before content. Why, he asks, should you persevere with a book it is ‘killing you’ to read when you’d switch channels on TV if you didn’t enjoy the programme?
‘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.’
So much for Zadie Smith and her failing readers (see earlier post). So much for the nagging puritanical feeling that books should somehow be good for you. I have been re-reading What Katy Did since I was about seven and there’s one particular line that stuck in my childish head. ‘Katy was naturally fond of reading…Nothing was so dull that she couldn’t get through with it.’ It stuck because it puzzled, I suppose, and now of course I know why. Still, Katy read Norway and the Norwegians four times, so perhaps girls were made of sterner stuff in those days.

One of the conceits of Hornby’s book is that he is not allowed to be rude about any book or author. Thus the reader is left intrigued, wondering just which was the ‘Unnamed Literary Novel’ (Abandoned) of November 2003 and other months. Naughty Nick. I have got stuck on two novels this month and shall in due course name them fearlessly and unteasingly. One of them is by Nick H-----. Oh dear. Although this is chiefly a book about books, NH manages to make it also a book about music, football, his family and other familiar themes: about life, really, as books should be. The only mild irritation is his referring to himself as 'dim', which is rather disingenuous. I found it far more entertaining than many novels I have read and recommend it heartily.
Tags: books about books, charles dickens, nick hornby, reading

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