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Thoughts on “The Polysyllabic Spree” by Nick Hornby

The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby (cover)Let me just start by saying that I am quite pleased that The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby happened to land itself in the #1 spot on my list of trip reading. In fact, were I not so very far from my public library, I would be dashing out right this instant to get Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, which is the followup. Instead, I shall have to content myself with posting my thoughts on The Polysyllabic Spree.

Nick Hornby has been on the edge of my radar for quite some time. Of course, long ago I saw About a Boy, which was based on Hornby’s novel of the same name. More recently, I listened to his novels Slam and A Long Way Down on audio and enjoyed both. And how cool is this: Nick Hornby and Ben Folds have been collaborating on an album (Nick=lyrics, Ben=music), “Lonely Avenue,” which will be released September 28th! I cannot wait.

Until a few days ago, however, I hadn’t actually read anything Hornby has written. The Polysyllabic Spree is the first of three collections of Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column, which appears in the Believer magazine. I didn’t know what I was missing.

Each column is structured as such:

  • List of books bought during the previous month
  • List of books read during the previous month
  • Rambling thoughts on books bought / books read / why books were purchased but not read / how one book led to another / excuses as to why not much reading occurred / sports / etc.

I haven’t read most of the books Hornby talks about; I haven’t even heard of some of them. But it doesn’t matter. The writing is quick and intelligent, sarcastic and deep, honest and articulate and downright funny. I actually laughed out loud a few times; Hornby has a way with words.

For example, in the October 2003 column, Hornby is talking about Desperate Characters by Paula Fox. The main characters, Otto and Sophie, he summarizes, have arrived at their holiday home. Upon opening the door, Sophie is reminded of a friend, because she has noticed a vinegar bottle he loved. We then learn that the bottle is smashed, and the reason for this is that the house has been ransacked, “a fact we only discover when Sophie has snapped out of her reverie,” explains Hornby. He continues:

“At this point, I realized with some regret 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!’ No rumination about artist friends–just a lot of cursing, and maybe some empty threats of violence.”

I giggled. Loudly.

But the book also has plenty of really great quotes about books and reading. Here is my favorite:

“I suddenly had an epiphany: all the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal….with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”

I absolutely need to get my hands on Housekeeping vs the Dirt and Shakespeare Wrote For Money, both compilations of Believer columns. And then I might as well have a go at Hornby’s fiction too, of which there is a good amount. I mean, really, how could it possibly be bad? If you enjoy reading about reading, I’d highly recommend you try Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree!

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