This is a short collection of some of Nick Hornby’s brilliant book review columns from The Believer magazine, these ones from 2003 and 2004. Well, after reading these (and laughing out loud at the gym several times), Hornby has now made it on to my evergreen Literary Dinner Party Guest List.
If you’ve only read Hornby’s fiction (Like a Boy, High Fidelity et al.), then get ye to a bookshop and buy any of his volumes of his book review columns. His fiction can be a bit patchy, but his columns are little nuggets of gold all tucked into each two and half page entry of his book. I have to say (and I don’t say this very often, mind you) that I thoroughly enjoyed every single page of this collection.
Hornby looks at books in exactly the same way as I (and probably as other voracious booklovers do comme ça) and so this read was like sitting down for a cuppa tea or coffee with a friend and then just nattering away about things. His columns always start with a list of “Books Bought” and “Books Read”, each column varying from month to month (as they do for many of us), and he’s upfront about his book-buying (and book-receiving) habits and why his “Books Read” list rarely matches his “Books Bought” selections. (Hmm. Nope. Never happens to me. No sirree bob.)
In one of the columns, I came across this sentence:
“All the books we own, read and unread, are the fullest expression of self that we have at our disposal…”
and then this one (actually taken from one of his other collections but along the same lines: there are sometimes:
“…unusual attempts at reinvention that periodically seize one in a bookshop…”
For some reason, I was so struck by this thought as it really resonated with me. It’s true that with some titles I purchase or bring home from the library, I am saying to myself “I’m really going to read this time,” or “I should really read this title – it’s so *important* to be well read,” or perhaps something along the lines of “I’ve always meant to read this,” or “Ooh goody. I’ve been looking for this…” and then the new acquisition gets home and is promptly put on a more inaccessible bookshelf for that “one day…”
(And here, I’m not berating myself (or anyone else) about this whole “not reading what you’ve bought” thing. (That’s part of the fun of being a reader, don’t you think?) It’s more of an observation, and I think it’s pretty funny to contemplate. I mean who hasn’t done this with at least one book that’s been brought into the house at some time?)
Thinking about it, I’m not sure what the impetus for these admittedly far-reached reading dreams may be – perhaps I read about it on a blog somewhere or via a book review, perhaps it was bought up in casual conversation with a booky friend or maybe it was just drudged up from the long-ago past and I just happened to be reminded of the title as I browsed one of the shelves. It is as others have said many times (and this is an incredibly vague paraphrase here), “…for where is a heart so weak as in a bookstore [or other booky place]”…
So, I decided to take a look along my own particular bookshelves to see if I had an inordinate number of Titles of Shame – sad volumes who, through no fault of their own, have remained untouched and unmoved off their shelf, watching other books be chosen (or not as the case may be). Which regrettable titles (although obviously thought worthy at the time of purchase) would be found during this observation?
It wasn’t too bad. I’m pretty good at getting rid of books that aren’t of interest any more so I don’t have that many Failed Dream titles hanging around. I did have two books about foreign languages, one for French and one for Spanish, but I still hold out a fragile hope for those two titles. I even think I have one for Latin, but I’ve already tried that and crossed it off the list. (Oh my god. The declensions, the conjugations, the tenses!)
(Oh, and Superhero suggested that I add all the cookbooks to the Failed Dream title group as well, but I pretended not to hear that.)
I think if I had looked closely at my infinite TBR list(s) that they would more closely mirror my intended self. They are pretty wide-ranging in scope and, I would have to admit, even a touch optimistic in places, but I say “aim high.” The old “Ad astra per aspra,” right?
For myself, I’m going to keep the hopeful fire of Hopeful Dream Titles burning. There’s nothin’ wrong with that.