Nick Horby isn't afraid to be real. A collection of fourteen months of his essays from Believer magazine, The Polysyllabic Spree is honest, smart, and down to earth. Every month he lists what he bought, what he read, and every month the list of what he bought outgrows his reading despite steady efforts, only occasionally thrown off by things like getting caught up in football matches, or his children. Any regular reader knows there's always a crowded bookshelf waiting, even as books we loved fade from memory and cry out to be read again ("But when I tried to recall anything about it other than its excellence, I failed. Maybe there was something about a peculiar stepfather?"). And as Hornby acknowledges later "Boredom and, very occasionally, despair are part of the reading life." So why do we bother, and why do we do the work?
The answers are, I think, pretty straightforward. The books we've forgotten still made an impression on us, settled somewhere in the corners of our minds like, um, mold. And why do the work? We do the work for the rewards, and Hornby knows that too. He puts a logical, personal weight into these mini-reviews, giving the reader solid reasons to read (or consider leaving aside) a book. A book of stories strikes a good balance for being "literary in the sense that they're serious, and will probably be nominated for prizes, but they're unliterary in the sense that they could end up mattering to people." Or, "We are never allowed to forget that some books are badly written; we should remember that sometimes they're badly read, too." It's as unpretentious and straightforward as a friend's advice in a pub, so it gathers a little of that trustworthiness as well.