I was surprised to hear Nick Hornby had another book of "Stuff I've Been Reading" columns as he said the previous one, "Shakespeare Wrote for Money", would be the last of them (not a bad decision as I felt it was tired and unenthusiastic). More surprising was that when I decided to buy it, I really enjoyed reading it. It's like running into an old friend after a few years apart and it turns out you both have a lot to talk about - or in this case, one person has a lot to say and the other wants to read it.
After a nearly 1 and a half year break, the book picks up the first column in May 2010 to the last in December 2011. Hornby's humour is as sharp and effervescent as ever but more importantly his enthusiasm for reading and the books he's read is infectious. I think what made me like the book more was that this time around he picked books that weren't necessarily well known in the mainstream and consequently I wound up picking up some excellent titles from the columns, one of which I'm two thirds of the way through and enjoying the heck out of - "The Driver's Seat" by Muriel Spark.
Recommendations like "Book of Days" by Emily Fox Gordon, "Whoops!" by John Lanchester, and "Charles Dickens" by Claire Tomalin, are all books I wouldn't have heard of without him (maybe not the Tomalin) nor would I have felt the urgent need to read them. It's also enjoyable to read Hornby's reviews of books I've already read. Books like "The Anthologist" by Nicholson Baker, "The Psychopath Test" by Jon Ronson, and "Huckleberry Finn" are all reviewed well (except "Finn" which is just one word - "meh". The Believer, which publishes these columns, doesn't believe in negative reviews so Hornby has to keep the pages bile-free).
One of my favourite things to do after reading a book I liked/disliked is to go online and read what others felt about it. Sometimes it's cathartic if I hated it and sometimes I learn something about it I missed when reading it; but reading others' reviews is always enjoyable and when it's someone famous for their writing doing it, so much the better.
Hornby's ingenious format of putting two lists at the start of the column "Books I've Bought" and "Books I've Read" is still fascinating to look at from the perspective of someone who loves books as much as Hornby and buys far more than he reads.
Well, I'm glad he's back doing it. This is a fantastic read which I flew through in two sittings writing down titles to pick up and laughing at Hornby's assessments of some books as well as digs at his publishers, and I really had a great time with this book. For bibliophiles everywhere, this is a must-have.