Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ten Years in the Tub, by Nick Hornby

Anyone who reads book review blogs will love this book by British novelist Nick Hornby. Subtitled A Decade of Soaking in Great Books, it is a collection of columns he wrote for an arts journal called The Believer (if you have heard of this journal, you are way ahead of me, but interestingly they do not allow negative writing to enter their pages; ergo, if Hornby doesn't like a book, he has to talk about it obliquely, without mentioning author or title--but I'm getting ahead of myself). Hornby's column is titled "Stuff I've Been Reading," and it is as informal as that name might suggest. He starts each column with a list of the books he bought that month, as well as a list of what he read. Then he proceeds to talk about those books. He is funny and often insightful, but not in a "Oh, I'm a postmodernist who's going to confuse you with my brilliance" way. In fact, despite being a successful writer and obviously very knowledgeable about all manner of literary stuff, he doesn't write like a critic at all; rather, he writes like a reader, and that's what makes the book so great.

Hornby's reading is diverse--he reads literary fiction and mysteries, collections of letters by eminent personages and books about quitting smoking, poetry, history, biography, philosophy, and a bit of science here and there.  When, half way through the decade, he discovers YA literature, it's both fun and funny to read about his delight. Whatever genre you partake of, he's probably read and talked about some examples. There are bound to be titles familiar to you and discussions that will convince you to pick up a book you would never have glanced twice at without Hornby. And Hornby will give you permission to quit reading books you don't like (not that you need permission, but I always feel slightly better when a respected author backs me up).

One quibble with the book is that the humor becomes a little wearing when you're reading column after column; I doubt it has that effect when you are reading a column once a month.  Even with humor that wears thin (and a snipe at book group members who complain about not caring about any of the characters--ouch! that stings), I wish I'd written this book!

Favorite passages

. . . all the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal.

I am not particularly interested in language. Or rather, I am interested in what languages can do for me, and I spend many hours each day trying to ensure that my prose is as simple as it can possible be. But I do not wish to produce prose that draws attention to itself, rather than the world it describes . . .

Stupidity is, despite all appearances to the contrary, a complicated state of mind.

And many more.

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