Surely we all occasionally buy books because of a daydream we’re having—a little fantasy about the people we might turn into one day, when our lives are different, quieter, more introspective, and when all the urgent reading, whatever that might be, has been done. We never arrive at that point, needless to say.
Proof of what makes Hornby such an effective writer on reading: He can share his experiences with books I will never ever care for, and yet I keep devouring his work. For example, here in the latest collection of his Believer columns: He prattles on about austerity in Britain for two pieces, and I read hungrily. He digresses (like always) toward football, and yet I read on. I mean, setting aside my purely selfish motivations—I want to talk about myself, and I want to talk about books, which is also largely about myself—isn’t that supposed the point of all our bibliophilic navel-gazing? Beyond setting one’s encounter with a book on a page of our own (so to speak), isn’t this reaching out to other readers—shouldn’t you be constantly making the case for reading and for good books, and for that wearied yet reinvigorated state of your soul in the aftermath of some spankin’ awesome literature?
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I’ve heaped praise on Hornby many times before, but here’s something I’m glad I noticed in this reading: Hornby acknowledges the failures of literature, and the negligible mistakes we readers commit. Hornby, here, acknowledges that there are bad books—that is, that there are books that simply fail us:
No time spent with a book is ever entirely wasted, even if the experience is not a happy one: there’s always something to be learned. It’s just that, every now and again, you hit a patch of reading that makes you feel as if you’re pootling about… But what can you do about it? We don’t choose to waste our reading time; it just happens. The books let us down.
Hornby is a comic writer, almost slyly funny. And by his own admission, he—and Believer?—would much rather focus on the good books, or the books that one truly enjoyed. And so it’s a rare-to-me Hornby that recognizes that reading does not always work out for us. And that, sometimes, we find ourselves wounding the reading, too:
Other books, is what happened. Other books, other moods, other obligations, other appetites, other reading journeys.
And perhaps I committed both kinds of failure in reading More Baths, Less Talking: I scorned it because it was far too short, I hated Hornby because there were three hundred and sixty-five goddamned days in a year and he’d only crap out a handful of columns for me to squeal over; and I kind of disgusted myself with by inability to take it slow, to make these pages last, to take a goddamned chill pill.
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I was in a poetry reading when I first thought of starting this book blog. I was in a stuffy, narrow bar full of writers and academics, people who should’ve been readers, if they knew what was good for them—and it was there that I had to finally acknowledge that I couldn’t talk to anyone about books. I’ve said time and again that this book blog exists because I was lonely: Being a reader singles one out, being a reader who wants to talk after raising her head from an open book seemed like a death knell.
And so I started this little creaky venture. And I tried some stupid gimmicks, and of course I hunted down people to look up to. I was consciously trying to find a voice. I told myself this book blog had to succeed, because it meant I’d succeeded as a reader: These were the books I read, Universe, so suck it. And then—along came Nick Hornby.
His books, his Believer columns collated in irritatingly thin volumes, have been integral to how I run this blog, because they dispense the best, most no-nonsense philosophy about reading and, by example, about writing on one’s reading: Take a chill pill, dude, and do what you like—read, for god’s sake, what you fucking like.
So, please, Nick: More from you, please. I’ve listened to all your excuses these past four books, but I’m not buying it anymore: Just more, Nick, please.