More adding to those wishlists …

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)

* * * * *
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


12 thoughts on “More adding to those wishlists …

    • Me too re the Drivers Seat – since being reminded of it by Hornby above, I’ve moved it to my bedside bookcase so I might read it sooner!

  1. Do you not sometimes think that Hornby should be banned. I mean, I know it’s great to read about all these wonderful books but The Bear who controls the pennies in this house is not happy. He tries to limit me to buying one book a week but when something like this comes out the damage done to his accounting system is devastating.

    Still, at least I don’t have to buy a copy of Skellig. I’ve had one ever since it was published and some years ago had the honour of being Public Orator when David Almond was given an honorary degree by the University I then worked for. If it’s only the third greatest book for children then I’d really like to know what the first and second are.

    • Cunningly, all the books I mentioned above are ones I already own but, I did add plenty more to my wishlist. Hornby makes them all sound so attractive – and the premise (set in the first volume) that he only writes about books he can be positive about, makes all the novels nearly irresistible, and has me developing a yen to read more non-fiction!

    • Hit the post button before I was finished. David Almond is a bit of a hit and miss author for me I find it hard to get an emotional attachment with his writing, but I read and enjoyed Skellig pre-blog – very clever. Lucky you having had the honour of giving the citation for his hon degree though.

  2. I wasn’t overly taken with The Polysyllabic Spree, but I’m quite taken with the idea of this book. The ideas about children’s books strike a chord, because I’ve always thought we should look different at children’s books and books that are accessible to children (but suitable for all). Skellig – which I also read pre-blog is definitely the latter.

  3. Hi! I´m new to the blog world but I´ve been following your blog for some time. After reading your review my only question is, do I ask for Stuff I´ve been reading for Christmas or should I buy the book now and then add the list of books I will surely want as a result of reading it? 😀

    • Hi Mad Hatter – Welcome and thank you for commenting. I must say you’ve set yourself a wonderful dilemma – I would ask for the Hornby (both volumes) for Christmas, and have the wishlist from reading them for birthdays! 😀

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