It’s very easy to like Nick Hornby. As a bookseller, I was an early supporter of his novels, pressing dozens of copies of High Fidelity (1995) and About a Boy (1998) into the minds and hands of eager readers. In 2003, Hornby started writing a popular book column for The Believer magazine called “Stuff I’ve Been Reading.” Those columns filled three collections: The Polysyllabic Spree (2004), Housekeeping vs. the Dirt (2006), and Shakespeare Wrote for Money (2008). Hornby abandoned the column in 2008, but returned in 2010.
More Baths Less Talking: Notes From the Reading Life of a Celebrated Author Locked in Battle with Football, Family, and Time Itself (McSweeney’s, $14) is the latest collection of Hornby’s work. If you’re not the sort who relishes the idea of reading a lot of dull, academic book reviews, fear not. Hornby’s not the fellow who’s going to give them to you. Each column is prefaced by two lists: books Hornby purchased during the previous month, and books he’d actually had time to read. The results are part autobiography, part pop criticism and part travelogue, and Hornby seems incapable of putting words together that aren’t witty and entertaining and true.
Hornby is the kind of enthusiastic and knowledgeable person you hope to encounter in a bookstore, either behind the counter or browsing next to you. Not only does Hornby love to read, he makes reading fun. If books were vitamins, Horny would be a Flintstone chewable. He compares Montaigne’s creation of the personal essay with James Brown’s creation of funk, enthusiastically praises short novels and documents the chore of writing an introduction to a new edition of Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. The dilemma? Dickens is one of Hornby’s favorite novelists, but Our Mutual Friend is clearly one of Dickens’ lesser works. Hilarity ensues.
Nothing is off limits to Hornby, who clearly lets his myriad interests guide him. His love of nonfiction leads him to books on British history, U.S. politics, psychotherapy, global economics and biographies (subjects include Lucille Ball and film directors Elia Kazan and Preston Sturges). A chance encounter with musician Patti Smith leads him to read her autobiography, Just Kids (2010), on the plane home.
Hornby’s taste in fiction is equally broad. He discovers the work of Muriel Spark by accident, courtesy of a bookstore display. One month brings a riff on John Updike, another column briefly mocks Mark Twain. As a father, Hornby recounts the delight of reading Andy Stanton’s Mr. Gum books to his boys at bedtime, complete with comic voices.
It’s clear from More Baths Less Talking that Hornby doesn’t care if you take his recommendations seriously or not. Hornby just wants people to read. Judging by the good time I had with Hornby, reading couldn’t have a better cheerleader. ★★★★☆