Book Log – Funny Girl: A Novel

Funny Girl: A Novel by Nick Hornby

I’ve never not enjoyed a Nick Hornby novel.  The reviews I’d read of this one were all over the place, but with his track record thus far, there’s little possibility that I’m not going to read anything he writes.

And I wasn’t disappointed.  Though not as rich as his other works, it was still an entertaining and smooth read.  There’s a lot of flavor of the early days of British television, and interesting characters being drawn.

And, of course, funny.

Also, there was a girl.

Book Log – Speaking with the Angel

Speaking with the Angel by Nick Hornby and others

So I bought this collection of short stories because… Nick Hornby.

Also, it benefits Autism.  Or rather, those with Autism.

It’s a collection of stories from a bunch of writers and Colin Firth.

“NippleJesus” was great.  “Walking into the Wind” was very David Sedaris (i.e. good).

In general, this is a fun collection of stories.  I think Colin Firth should stick to acting, and I am forever ashamed by my inability to enjoy Dave Eggers, but overall, this is a good read.

Book Log – Songbook

Songbook by Nick Hornby

With this work, I have completed my reading of the Non-Fiction and Fiction oeuvre of available Nick Hornby… or have I?

According to Wikipedia, there’s something called Contemporary American Fiction he wrote in 1992.  No real info about what it is.  Hmm.  And there’s some short stories and edited anthologies I haven’t bothered with.  And I gave up on Fever Pitch… I’m not going back, because I simply don’t care about football/soccer that much.

And actually, that’s why I haven’t read Songbook until now.  I was afraid of another Fever Pitch, except about music.  And I don’t care about music either, to own the truth.

Which is not to say I don’t enjoy watching and playing soccer, or listening to music.   I just don’t burn a lot of energy thinking about it.

But it is Nick Hornby, and the passion and wit he brings to talking about books in his Believer column is present here, to the extent that I almost, for a moment or two, was interested in checking out some of the music he’s talking about.  The feeling still comes and goes a bit.  Hopefully, it will pass, because I don’t need to see funds desperately needed to buy books get funneled into mp3s.



Book Log – Juliet, Naked

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

I’m a little more self-aware than usual writing this, because this book is about a reclusive singer who contacts someone who posted a review of his work online.

So, Nick, if you’re reading this, thanks. You’re awesome. I’ve loved everything you’ve ever written, except Fever Pitch which I couldn’t get through, because it was like you were writing another language. I especially miss your Believer column.

I liked this one a lot. It hasn’t replaced About a Boy or How to Be Good or High Fidelity, in my rankings but it’s still great.

I have to tell you, I got mixed up. I thought this was one of your entries in the Young Adult category (and honestly, Slam shows me you know how to do that genre really well, at least, from the perspective of someone who isn’t in that demographic), but got confused when it was about middle-aged people. That seemed bold, risky. But then, I guess, I was just mistaken. It’s just a regular book.

A really good regular book, I mean.

Maybe you could figure out how to write that Young Adult book that’s about a bunch of middle aged people. Might be an interesting challenge. Think about it.

Or maybe you could just re-brand this one. It’s got “naked” in the title, so it’ll at least pique their interest.

Book Log – Shakespeare Wrote for Money

Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby

This is the third and purportedly final collection of Hornby’s monthly essays about reading from The Believer magazine.

I am terribly disappointed that he stopped writing this column. I finished the book on the plane ride to Juarez this week, and laughed out loud a few times, which is embarrassing.

Do you read for fun? Are you not pretentious about reading? Do you want dozens and dozens of good recommendations spanning many genres and decades?Then you absolutely need to read these collections. I think they’re funnier than Nick Hornby’s novels, and I dearly love his novels.

Also, the introduction is by Sarah Vowell, who everyone should be in love with. My favorite excerpt:

I’m dismayed by how cheered up I was when the September 2006 issue of The Believer arrived and under “Books Read” Hornby had put down “none.” In that column, collected herein, he confesses that he didn’t read a book at all because something called “the World Cup” was on TV. I’m not entirely sure what that is, as I do not live in the world; I live in the United States. But from what I can tell, he didn’t crack a book because this World Cup thing was as all-consuming a free-time eater-upper as the DVDs of the first three seasons of Battlestar Galactica were to me. Not that I’m convinced that this Ukraine v. Tunisia rivalry he describes has the depth of feeling and moral ambiguity so dramatically summoned by the space humans’ ongoing war with the Cylons the humans themselves created, but then again what does?

Go get this book, and the others. If you come by my house, I’ll loan them to you. Probably.

Volume 2: Housekeeping vs. The Dirt
Volume 1: The Polysyllabic Spree

Who is going to continue what Hornby has started? Who will have the time and dedication to read 7 or 8 books a month and write about them in a humorous way?

I’m accepting applications in the comments below. It’s an unpaid position, and anyone likely to recommend Tolkein need not apply.

Book Log – A Long Way Down

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

A book about four people who are thinking of killing themselves by jumping off a roof didn’t really strike my fancy.

But, Nick Hornby has a limited oeuvre just now… 5 novels (one of them young adult), some non-fiction focused on English Football1 and music, and of course the delightful Believer articles on reading. So, sooner or later, I’m was going to have to give A Long Way Down a try, since it seemed unlikely that he was going to go off rambling about football or music too much in it.

The book popped up as available on, so I dropped a credit on it. As a bonus, whoever had it last left a hand drawn index-card-as-bookmark in it. So it had that going for it.

If High Fidelity, About a Boy, and How To Be Good tie for first place, then A Long Way Down comes in a not very distant and very readable second. But I think it only keeps from being a distant second by the presence of one of the four main characters, Jess, the crazy teenage girl; She’s got enough Quirk to her to keep the story going and interesting. The other characters are fine, but would probably fall flat without Jess stirring things up.

Then again, that’s not unreasonable considering they’re all suicidal.

1 I tried to read Fever Pitch. I really did. But it defeated me.

Book Log – Housekeeping Vs. The Dirt

Housekeeping Vs. The Dirt by Nick Hornby

This is the sequel to The Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby’s previous compilation of his Believer columns about books. I’ve extolled his columns before in a previous book log, but I’ll state it again: I love, love, love his columns about reading.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered I had forgotten I wasn’t done with this book. I was crawling around on the floor with Scout the other night and noticed it on the table beside the couch, with the built-in cover bookmark at the halfway point. “How odd,” I said to myself, “that I should have put the book away with the bookmark still in the book instead of folded back into the cover!” I opened it at the mark and read a bit and realized I’d put the book down, gotten distracted by a shiny object, and forgot that there was still some left to go.

Really, it’s like finding $20 in the pocket of a little-used jacket.

The preface is a witty diatribe against book snobbery:

But what’s proper? Whose books will make us more intelligent? Not mine, that’s for sure.

Hornby and I have two books-read in common this time, Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation and Levitt’sFreakanomics. He’s purchased The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup by Susan Orlean, but it languishes on the shelf. I kind of don’t blame him, her essays are a little bit… I dunno. Opaque? I’m not sure what I’m trying to say.

Sarah Vowell is mentioned numerous times, largely because they are friends (“I should own up here and say that Sarah Vowell used to be a friend, back in the days when she still spoke to people who weren’t sufficiently famous to warrant animation”). Several book recommendations come from her, and when mentioned in the later half of the book, he refers to her exclusively as Violet Incredible.

Assassination Vacation is the first of the inevitable Incredibles cash-ins– Sarah Vowell, as some of you may know, provided the voice of Violet Parr in The Incredibles, and has chosen to exploit the new part of her fame by writing a book about the murders of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. See, I don’t know how good an idea this is, from the cash-in angle. Obviously I’m over here in London, and I can’t really judge the appetite for fascinating facts about the Garfield presidency among America’s preteens, but I reckon Vowell might have done better with something more contemporary– a book about the Fair Deal, say, or an analysis of what actually happened at Yalta.

He also reveals that he was the English Nick mentioned in one of her essays in Assassination. Incestuous!

High-larious. I eagerly await the next one.

Book Log – Polysyllabic Spree

Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

This “book” barely qualifies as such; At 150 5×6″ pages (including index and ads for The Believer), I would probably label it a thick magazine.

But, oh, what a thick magazine.

Essentially a reprint of his book log-esque articles from The Believer magazine, it is aptly summed up by the pseudo-subtitle on the cover: “A hilarious and true account of one man’s struggle with the monthly tide of the books he’s bought and the books he’s been meaning to read.”

Virtually every page of this book had a quote I wanted to steal and tack onto my signature line. I am not one to think I would like to hang out with an author just by reading his stuff… Douglas Adams seemed like he would be a bit standoffish, Douglas Coupland is a bit overphilosophical… but if you skipped over his obsessions with European Football and music, I would hang out with Nick Hornby. My answer to the what-famous-people-would-you-like-to-have-dinner-with would be him and Sarah Vowell.

Consider this paragraph from March 2004:

One of the reasons I wanted to write this column, I think, is because I assumed that the cultural highlight of my month would arrive in book form, and that’s true, for probably eleven months of the year. Books are, let’s face it, better than everything else. If we played Cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go fifteen rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form had to offer, then books would win pretty much every time. Go on, try it. “The Magic Flute” v. Middlemarch? Middlemarch in six. “The Last Supper” v. Crime and Punishment? Fyodor on points. See? I mean, I don’t know how scientific this is, but it feels like the novels are walking it. You might get the occassional exception– “Blonde on Blonde” might mash up The Old Curiousity Shop, say, and I wouldn’t give much for Pale Fire’s chances against Citizen Kane. And every now and again you’d get a shock, because that happens in sport, so Back to the Future III might land a lucky punch on Rabbit, Run; but I’m still backing literature twenty-nine times out of thirty.

And then, the following month:

Last month I was banging on about how books were better than anything– how just about any decent book you picked would beat up anything else, any film or painting or piece of music you cared to match it up with. Anyway, like most theories advanced in this column, it turned out to be utter rubbish. I read four really good books this month, but even so, my cultural highlights of the last four weeks were not literary. I went to a couple of terrific exhibitions at the Royal Academy (and that’s a hole in my argument right there– one book might beat up one painting, but what chance has one book, or even four books, got against the collected works of Guston and Vuillard?); I saw Jose Antonio Reyes score his first goal for Arsenal against Chelsea, a thirty-yard screamer, right in the top corner; and someone sent me a superlative Springstein bootleg, a ’75 show at the Main Point in Bryn Mawr with strings, and a cover of “I Want You,” and I don’t know what else. […more babbling about Springstein and Arsenal…] So there we are, then. Books: pretty good, but not as good as other stuff, like goals, or bootlegs.

So, you see… a really cool guy, but you really have to catch him on the right month if you want to have lunch with him.