Jan 8, 2008

The Polysyllabic Spree

by Nick Hornby

A Christmas gift from my sister K. Being "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" there is nothing about The Polysyllabic Spree that I could not love. Except the fact that I never read most of books he talks about. No matter. It's still a delight! Funny, intelligent, witty and honest. And I even felt excused when at the end I read Hornby's quote of another author (Gabriel Zaid, So Many Books): " 'it would take us fifteen years simply to read a list of all the books every published.' I think he intends to make us despair..." So that's why I haven't heard of all these titles!

"Zaid's finest moment, however, comes in his second paragraph when he says that 'the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.' " That would be me, certainly, if there were not financial restraints and common sense. Though I do feel like I loose composure with too many unread books around. I feel like I ought to read what's in my "unread" pile before acquiring more books (right now that shelf is about static at forty-six). So does that mean I'm not cultured? It's probably a good thing; I think my husband would go utterly mad if all our walls were lined with bookcases, and the floors would groan.

Back to the Spree. Unbeknown to me beforehand, there exists a monthly literary publication called The Believer, in which Hornby writes a column called "Stuff I've Been Reading." This book is a collection of those essays. At the head of each Horby lists what books he bought that month (or some of them) and what he's read, then plunges into observations on said books. How good or poor they are, what they make him think of, tidbits about the authors, the competition they have with football-viewing and the arrival of a new child, because "reading is a domestic activity, and is therefore subsceptible to any changes in the domestic environment." Oh, isn't that so! My book-reading soared the first month after my baby was born and I was stuck in bed recuperating with a nursing infant; it plunged thereafter when the kid got more active...

My two other favorite quotes from Hornby are "what one wants to read, most of the time, is something that bears no reference to one's life and work" and "There is enough money in the music and movie industries to ensure that we get to hear about most things that might interest us; books have to remain a secret, to be discovered only when you spend time browsing. This is bad for authors, but good for the assiduous shopper." I just love that feeling of discovery when I find a treasure tucked on a dusty shelf in a second-hand shop, or open a book I picked up on chance because it was only a dollar, only to find it's the best thing I've ever read...

This is the longest post I've written in months, but it was also the most enjoyable thing I've read in that long and I need somewhere to gush! As a result of reading The Polysyllabic Spree, my first impulse was to go online and search for other collections of his essays on literature, and I found Housekeeping vs. the Dirt which was published last year. I can't wait to get my hands on it.

As a matter of interest, out of the 99 books he mentioned, I've only read five:
Great Expectations- Dickens
Franny and Zooey- J.D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye- Salinger
The Lord of the Rings- Tolkien
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

and these are the ones I now want to read:
George and Sam- Charlotte Moore
Old School- Tobias Wolfe
Clockers- Richard Price (for my husband)
How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World- (also for husb)
Bobby Fisher Goes to War- Edwards
Random Family- Nicole LeBlanc

Rating: 5/5               Published 2004, 143 pgs

Read another review at:
Passion for the Page
Books 'n Border Collies


  1. Those types of books always topple my TBR pile! I didn't know about The Believer publication. I'll have to check it out.

  2. The sequel must be very popular, I looked it up on PaperbackSwap and there are 35 people waiting in line for a chance free copy!


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