Nick Hornby's Housekeeping vs. the Dirt has a subtitle that promises "massively witty adventures in reading". I'm game! This slim volume covers fourteen months of reading (published in 2006 in book format--originally the essays appeared in the Believer magazine -- am so tempted now to get a subscription) and I momentarily thought it might be fun to read it serially, but then thought how silly since I feel like gulping it down in just a few gluttonous sittings and not spacing it out over the course of the coming year. It is a very gulpable book, you see.
I am a 'collector' of books--I collect certain authors, and certain kinds of stories, certain publishers, certain series . . . you get the picture. I collect books about books and books about reading (I'm a serious pushover for this sort of book). Since this year is all about reading from my own shelves, one of the 'themes' I want to explore is books about books. I have a whole shelf of them (mostly unread) and thought it was finally time (zipping right along now halfway through February) to take a peek at what I have on hand. Nick and I have crossed paths before, back too many years when I read his Polysyllabic Spree. I was a convert back then, so I am not sure why I never picked up Housekeeping. Now I see he has several more collections like this out that I am going to have to add to my next book order.
Nick (I feel like I can call him Nick) has a breezy, chatty way of writing that I find very inviting in this sort of setting. He seems like such a laid back, engaging sort of fellow, a little irreverent, but down to earth and best (because I think I am the same--hence he is preaching to the choir in my case) an 'equal opportunity' sort of reader. There is nothing uppity or condescending about his reading or reading choices. And he is quite deprecating, too. I get the feeling that he paints himself as being decidedly low brow, but I'm not sure if that is at all accurate (when asking whose books will make us more intelligent--he answers by saying not his books for sure). He may read primarily for enjoyment, but he does seem to read widely, too, and for a variety of reasons. Oh, and I wonder if he really does buy so few books each month (is he not really owning up to what he adds to his reading stack?). If so, I am feeling even more gluttonous now.
I like how he approaches writing about books in his essays (these are reprints of his Believer columns) --"writing about reading as opposed to writing about individual books".
" . . . I would be paid to write about what I would have done anyway, which was read the books I wanted to read. And if I felt that mood, morale, concentration levels, weather, or family history had affected my relationship with a book, I could and would say so."
He dismisses the idea of reading only books that "we think we ought to read, or that other people think we should read." He lets his tastes guide him in his reading choices (me too). And he is all for trying to "promote the joys of reading rather than the (dubious) benefits." He doesn't want to dissuade anyone from reading a book they want to--whatever the subject or type--as long as it's something they can't wait to pick it up again. That sounds like just about the right sort of reading formula for me, too.
Each chapter he begins with a list of books bought and books read (not always one in the same) and then goes on to write about them in a very companionable manner. I was most interested in today's essay since he writes about Philip Roth's The Plot Against America and compares ans contrasts it with Robert Harris's Fatherland (both on my list to read). He talks about reading the Roth, an alternative history story, and how the alternative history drives the narrative but that feels sort of self-conscious in how it is all explained. Whereas with the Harris the alternative history remains in the background and Harris just gets on with the thriller plot. For him, these perceived flaws in the Roth didn't bother him one whit and it is only in critical reviews that the flaws are seen to inhibit real enjoyment of the story. In his columns he allows himself to just say how much he likes a story without necessarily being critical about every aspect of it.
I very much like Hornby's writing style, and his reading style to be honest. I don't mind that our reading choices and likes might not always overlap, because his enthusiasm over reading is so refreshing. I plan on reading one column a day (unless I can't help myself and end up reading more). I might, as a matter of fact, just keep going now, since next up is (among other books) something by Amos Oz and (my latest 'find') Laura Lippman. I even like the books he bought--by Kate Atkinson, Ruth Rendell and John le Carré. I hope he writes about those books soon, too.
I've only read Hornby's essays. I think his own novels are categorized as 'Lad Lit'? That doesn't mean I can't read them, and have been looking through his backlist of books. His newest appeals greatly, but maybe I should pick up an older title? Has anyone read his fiction and have a favorite? For now, I plan on continuing to enjoy his essays.