The Polysyllabic Spree
Irreverent, clever, and culturally in-the-know, Nick Hornby is probably one of the few people one could bear to hear go on about the books he has bought, the free books he has been sent by admirers and publicist friends, and the books he actually reads. Throw in some fodder about his friendships with other famous authors, some lovable references to being a dad, his inability to stop smoking, and his admiration for the Arsenal football (that’s soccer to us) team, and you’ve a fair description of The Polysyllabic Spree.
The Spree, as Hornby gleefully calls it, started as a series of monthly columns in The Believer, the magazine affiliated with the quarterly McSweeney’s. The Believer, whose first issue appeared in March 2003, is as interesting and iconoclastic as McSweeney’s, if you like that sort of thing. That doesn’t, however, mean that its columns should be collected and sold in book form. There’s good reason to be suspicious of that sort of thing if the author is not Charles Dickens.
Who, by the way, is a great favorite of Nick Hornby. His column on David Copperfield is one of the best, and he describes the Victorian’s work as “proper bendy stories you want to follow.” Fun language aside, the whole enterprise is a bit odd. Do we really want to buy a book about what another person is reading each month (carefully detailed), learning how much he spends on books, what good taste he has, how much more learned he is than us, and what cooler friends he has? It all seems a bit affected, too Hugh Grant aren’t-I-irresistible. Also, the list aspect makes one feel snubbed, uncultured, and is-my-list-as-good-as-his. It’s not. Give up now.
That said, at least the proceeds go to two charities: the McSweeney’s nonprofit that teaches kids writing in New York, and a U.K.-based educational center for children with autism. Hornby shares that his son is autistic, in his reviews of books by Charlotte Moore and Paul Collins on the subject. Maybe, for charity, you should put aside your ego for a minute and just enjoy finding out what an interesting and discerning mind like Hornby’s enjoys each month: mainly authors’ biographies and letters, some literary and nonliterary fiction, a few classics like Chekhov and Salinger, and books by Michael Lewis. But better you go buy some Lewis yourself. Highly recommended.