Thursday, November 15, 2007

Different Take on Reviews

(Too) quickly making my way through the second selection of Nick Hornby's columns from The Believer. His first selection, published as The Polysyllabic Spree, came out in late 2004. The collection received and deserved critical praise. For most readers, his approach was unique and honest. First, he listed books that he purchased, occasionally describing the indirect way he came upon their ownership. Next, he lists the books he is reviewing/discussing. Sometimes, there is a commonality of books on each list. Sometimes, not. Having a collection of his Believer columns all together makes it easy for a reader to page backwards to see when a book he's reviewed in one selection was actually purchased. It's interesting to simply look at the lists. One month he read Marilynne Robinson's "Gilead", Walter Mosley's "Little Scarlet", and Jeremy Lewis' "Penguin Special". Mr. Hornby, as is his manner, puts himself down as just a regular guy reading books and writing 'em up. In the intro to Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, on page 25 to be specific, he notes:
"The truest and wisest words ever written about reviewing were spoken by Sarah Vowell in her book Take the Cannoli. Asked by a magazine to review a Tom Waits album, she concludes that she "quite likes the ballads," and writes that down; now all she needs is another wight-hundred-odd words restating this one blinding aperçu." While he may believe this statement to be true, Mr. Hornby can't help himself. He may say that he "quite likes the book", but he easily goes on and writes an additional 2-3 pages about one of the books he's read and ties in, quite cleverly, the other books he has listed in each column entry. While he has written five novels, all of which I strongly recommend, it is his collection of short pieces, 31 songs, Polysyllabic Spree, Housekeeping vs. the Dirt that I've enjoyed the most. Short intense bursts of his writing are boosts for the day; little insights, like Greek worry beads, to roll around in your mind while slogging through the drudgery of the day. 31 Songs is basically an essential for anyone who too deeply loves a song; it quenches the overly intense soul and calms one's self-doubts about loving music, specifically R & R, too much.

In the current version of The Believer, Mr. Hornby

The Pigman—Paul Zindel
The Bethlehem Murders—Matt Rees
The Dud Avocado—Elaine Dundy
Singled Out—Virginia Nicholson

Holes—Louis Sachar
The Fall-Out: How a Guilty Liberal Lost His Innocence—Andrew Anthony
A Disorder Peculiar to the Country—Ken Kalfus
Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin —Lawrence Weschler (unfinished)
Bridge of Sighs—Richard Russo (unfinished)

Damn him! I've read or am planning to read quite a few of these books. What's he got to say about them? I....must....find...out. Only problem is when you go to the site, there's a teaser of 4 paragraphs followed by a SUBSCRIBE button. The annual subscription is $45. Not too bad...but... Checked the local library and their reply was (I kid you not), "We don't subscribe to any religious magazines due to their innate controversial potential." "innate controversial potential"??? What low level civil service plunker comes up with this stuff? Perhaps a subscription from a family member still caring about my mental state for the holidays would be a pointed suggestion here?

A tip of the hat to Whisky Prajer for saying, "Yes, go ahead. It's just as good as Spree."

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