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Stuff I’ve Been Reading by Nick Hornby

A few weeks ago I read Nick Hornby’s book The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, his collection of Stuff I’ve been Reading columns for The Believer mag. I loved it and added loads of books to my wishlist, (see my review here).

I coyly ended that post saying I hoped for a second book, knowing that there was indeed such a volume coming out in November.  I was very lucky to receive a proof copy of Stuff I’ve Been Reading. It was strictly embargoed until just before publication – so phew! I can now tell you that it:

  • Hornby Stuffwas just as good as The CPS,
  • had little of the running gag about the Spree staff that the last collection was full of. Whilst funny once, it would be wearing a second time;
  • takes us from summer 2006 where the last volume ended up to the end of 2011;
  • still lists ‘Books bought’ and ‘Books read’;
  • would be a wonderful Christmas present for anyone who loves books about books and/or is looking for recommendations to read;
  • has added a lot more titles to my wishlist!

I’ll share a few of my highlights …

Firstly, remembering what he said in the previous volume that he was writing about the books that he had mostly read for pleasure – this tickled me…

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 400 of the books suggested would kill you anyway), but reading begets reading – that’s sort of the point of it, surely? – ad anybody who never deviates from a set list of books is intellectually dead, anyway.

One of the themes in his reading at the start of this volume, is his discovery of young adult fiction.  He had written a YA novel himself (Slam) and on a trip to promote it in the US, started to really discover the world of children’s fiction from an adult reader’s perspective.

I read Skellig on the plane, and though I have no idea whether it’s the third greatest children’s book of the last seventy years, I can tell you that it’s one of the best novels published in the last decade, and I’d never heard of it. … The only problem with reading Skellig at an advanced age is that it’s over before you know it; a twelve-year-old might be able to eke it out, spend a little longer in the exalted, downbeat world that Almond creates. Skellig is a children’s book because it is accessible and because it has children at the centre of its narrative, but, believe me, it’s for you too, because it’s for everybody, and the author knows it. … …suddenly, I’m aware that there may well be scores of authors like David Almond, people producing masterpieces that I am ignorant of because I happen to be older than the intended readership.

Well said! I’ve long been a champion of YA and children’s books that adults can read too.  This sets him off on a stream of reading such books. I do hope that some adult readers of this book will be tempted to try a few after noting Hornby’s approval.

driversseatElsewhere, he gets into some of the nominated novels for the ‘Lost Booker’ – 1970 the year they changed the timing rules, so a whole year’s books couldn’t be entered for the Book Prize.  He reads and enjoys Nina Bawden’s The birds on the trees, and Muriel Spark’s The Drivers Seat finding that ‘its icy strangeness is part of its charm’.  This sets him off reading lots more Spark.  He says: ‘But what a writer Spark is – dry, odd, funny, aphoristic, wise, technically brilliant.’

sharpHornby is able to put things so well. For instance, writing about Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, a contemporary werewolf novel set in LA and written in blank verse, he is able to get to the essence of the style, saying: ‘The blank verse does precisely what Barlow must have hoped it would do, namely, adds intensity without distracting, or affecting readability.’  I loved this book, and was glad to find that Hornby did too.

The other joy of reading about what Nick Hornby’s been reading is his love of non-fiction. His choices are always interesting, and while I may not go on to read them necessarily, it is fascinating to hear his views.

All the above is interspersed with asides on football, family, and culture in general. Although the asides set the date within the book’s chronology, the fact that this is a diary is largely irrelevant, except for some of the trails he is set off on by his circumstances. Hornby is an everyman in the world of reading.

Once again, I loved being in his company, and would thoroughly recommend this book and its predecessor to anyone who loves reading about books. (9/10)

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Source: Review Copy – Thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Stuff I’ve Been Reading by Nick Hornby, pub 7th Nov by Viking, Trade paperback, 272 pages.
1001: Books You Must Read Before You Die ed Peter Boxall
Skellig: 15th Anniversary Edition by David Almond
The Birds On The Trees (VMC) by Nina Bawden
The Driver’s Seat (Penguin Modern Classics) by Muriel Spark
Sharp Teethby Toby Barlow

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