Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Non-Fiction: "May 2007"

Nick Hornby. "May 2007"Shakespeare Wrote for Money: Two Years of Reading Begat by More Reading, Presented in Easily Digestible, Utterly Hysterical Monthly Installments. Believer Books: 2008. 47-53.

I picked up this book at the Echo Park Time Travel Mart and thus far I am enjoying it immensely. This book is the third and final collection of Hornby's columns about literature and reading from The Believer magazine. So far, I've read about half of the collection, but I wanted to single out "May 2007" as particularly representative. In this essay, Hornby discusses how "reading begets reading" (49) but also belabors that some of the classics may kill you, presumably by boredom. This is a great example of my mixed feelings toward Hornby's writing about reading; on the one hand he's incredibly smart and literate, but on the other hand he's a bit condescending and superior. I certainly wish I could write as well about books as he does, but I don't really love the things he chooses to read.

This essay is an insight into the divide between "literature" and everything else; it also demonstrates who gets to decide which is which. In other essays, Hornby discusses comic books and literature by women, but in this particular essay, he only reads and discusses books by men. He name-drops Stephen Frears as an arbiter of what he reads.

Overall, I love the project in which Hornby discusses what he reads every month, and Hornby is absolutely brilliant at doing it. The essays are smart, snappy, and only slightly superior and I love that he's talking about books. Mostly, I wish there were others, counterpoints to Hornby's voice continuing an intelligent, multivocal discussion about literature of all sorts. I think that's partially what book bloggers are here for, but I'd like to see people like Sarah Vowell (who wrote the intro to Shakespeare Wrote for Money) getting paid to write cleverly and professionally about what they're reading on a monthly basis.

Overall, I do recommend this book for anyone who loves reading good writing about reading. I will absolutely be picking up Hornby's earlier collections of columns, The Polysyllabic Spreee and Housekeeping vs. the Dirt to revel in the literary intelligence of these sets of columns, but I will continue to read them with a sense of skepticism toward the choices of books and remember that this is just one person's taste among many.

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