Polysyllabic Spree, The

Nick Hornby
"Books are, let's face it, better than everything else," writes Nick Hornby in his "Stuff I've Been Reading" column in The Believer. "If we played cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go 15 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 point 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 29 times out of 30." This book collects Hornby's popular columns in a single, artfully illustrated volume with selected passages from the novels, biographies, collections of poetry, and comics under discussion.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2018-01-03
I had never read anything by Nick Hornby before picking up his slim volume of collected articles from Believer magazine, enticingly titled The Polysyllabic Spree. I۪ve never even seen the movies based on his work, and I was employed by a video rental store for five years. After reading this, I۪m a little sad that I haven۪t given him a chance before this; Hornby is a highly accessible and entertaining writer, even when doing something as simple as keeping a monthly record of his reading habits.

It۪s fortunate for Hornby that he is so accessible, as this is a complaint he touches on with some frequency in regards to other writers and critics. He is a reader of the masses,۝ the kind of guy that would like to eliminate all of the pretentious nonsense that turns the average person away from reading. I like him for this, since most professional critics and reviewers try so hard to present themselves as the arbiters of good taste, who read in a vacuum and pass their judgment from on high.

Basically, this book was an entertaining little compilation of reviews tinged with autobiography and social commentary. There were some reviews that were rather pointless, as they didn۪t receive enough space to convey much, but there were others that made me throw the book aside and scramble for a bit of paper to scrawl titles for future reference. His identification of himself by the books he has read/bought has to hit home with anyone that loves to read, and the fact that he is able to integrate his reading life into his real life makes his writing very enjoyable, even when his "Polysyllabic Spree*" joke starts to wear a little thin.

I think I knew that Hornby was going to be my kind of guy after the first few articles. You see, each entry is preceded by a list of the books he has purchased and the books read each month, and these lists almost never sync up. It is obvious very early on that he has been accumulating a decently sized collection of books that will probably never be read, and I۪m not ashamed to admit that I am in the process of doing the same thing.

(*The Polysyllabic Spree is the name Hornby has given the folks that run Believer magazine, in reference to that weird band Polyphonic Spree that had way too many members that all looked like rejects from Jonestown. You'll have to read the book to understand why this is both funny and a bit irritating).
Reviewed: 2015-04-07
Hornby's monthly column for the Believer is amusing but also more true to the experience of being a reader than the usual review. I enjoy following the lists of what he's acquired, and what he's actually read, and seeing when he gets to things. As well, he reveals just a bit about his normal life, and how it gets in the way of his reading. Finally, there's the really interesting aspect of how all this combines, at what sort of reading continuity and bizarre juxtapositions come up.
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