‘The Polysyllabic Spree’ by Nick Hornby

19Feb05

There really isn’t much to say about this collection of critical essays other than I recommend it. I realize that one must be of a certain ilk to enjoy reading a book about a man reading books, but Hornby’s ordinary (in the best sense possible), conversational voice makes these essays very accessible. He offers intelligent critiques of the books he reads, but Hornby remains cognizant, as he does in his novels, that he is writing to his readers and not above them.

In these essays, Hornby is speaking for everyone who struggles with books, in that you have a library somewhere full of books you’ve been meaning to read, books you know you’ll never read, and yet you spend hundreds of dollars a year buying more books that you know you’ll never read but you keep meaning to. He’ll expound on the brilliance of Charles Dickens and spend a month happily reading David Copperfield, but he’ll also abandon a novel for a soccer game. Hornby tackles some fundamental questions: why books? why do we read? why do people write them? what’s the bloody point?

If you are unaware that the title of the collection is a reference, well, it is. The Polyphonic Spree is a very large group of musicians who dress in colorful robes and play hard-to-classify music. Chamber pop would probably be the closest genre I can think of. Elizabeth tells me that it’s an “ambient orchestral experience.” I tell you this so that, in case you go out and read Mr. Hornby’s essays, you will be able to appreciate the humor of his Spree references. See? I take care of you.

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