The joy of reading

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree
by Nick Hornby

This book looked and sounded like fun with a literary bent, which was exactly what I needed after a few non-absorbing reads in a row.

This is a compilation of Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns that he wrote for the literary magazine Believer from 2003 to 2006. Hornby is funny and the magazine had a policy of positivity so the result is a real delight to read.

Hornby’s novels probably fall into the more readable end of literary fiction so it is perhaps no surprise that that is where his own reading tastes lie. He loves Dickens but has little patience for the vaguer, plotless end of literary fiction so to keep in line with the Believer‘s no-negativity clause he creates the mythical Polysyllabic Spree, the “twelve [or 100, or 64, depending on the column] rather eerie young men and women…all dressed in white robes and smiling maniacally” who he claims berate him for any bad reviews, which makes for some hilarity.

But most of the pleasure comes from Hornby’s frank discussions of how he chooses what he reads, how life intrudes on his reading, and sharing his great joy in reading what he wants to read. He despairs of literary snobbery, of those who look down on others for reading Dan Brown or Mills & Boon. He wisely and wittily describes his reads, mostly biographies, comedy and history. He is open about the sources of his books – his publisher, friends and family send him proof copies, but he is also an insatiable book buyer, frequenting book shops, new and used, whenever he can.

Believer is published by McSweeney’s, so a lot of the names involved are writers who are familiar to me – Vendela Vida, for instance – and, brilliantly, the internet tells me that Hornby’s column was recently reinstated. I might just have to become a subscriber!

First published by Viking 2006.