Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby
The Complete Polysyllabic Spree

Candor, insight, and mordant wit permeate Nick Hornby’s book reviews, collected here in a single volume.

Each chapter begins with two lists, Books Bought and Books Read during a particular month. It’s not until a hundred pages have elapsed that Hornby admits he’s been “economical with the truth”: He actually bought far more books than he listed, like an addict lying about his consumption.

What makes Hornby so likable a writer? Witness his reaction to a “literary” novel. “Sophie opens the door to the house and is immediately reminded of a friend, an artist who used to visit them there . . . she’s staring at something he loved . . . because it’s in pieces. And the reason it’s in pieces is because someone has broken in and trashed the place, a fact we only discover when Sophie has snapped out of her reverie. At this point, I realized that not only could I never write a literary novel, but I couldn’t even be a character in a literary novel. I can only imagine myself, or any character I created, saying, ‘Shit! Some bastard has trashed the house!’ ”

We also get treated to reflections on the relative merits of literature versus other art forms, glimpses of Hornby family life (a young son interrupts bedtime stories to say “Do ‘dirty’!”), and excerpts several pages long from authors he admires, enough to give you the flavor of their work.

At the collection’s end, we’re told that Hornby is abandoning book reviews to “spend more time with his family.” Sarah Vowell, who wrote the introduction to the final section, snaps, “What—they don’t let you read books in rehab?”

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