The Complete Polysyllabic Spree

Note: This is a list text.

I am not usually a non-fiction reader, but when the book is about books, I had to give it a go!

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree is a column author Nick Hornby wrote for the enigmatic magazine, The Believer. The monthly entries detail his relationship with books – what he bought, what he read and what he abandoned. Hornby says he is a reader’s reader – he is not interested in wanky novels by authors that are trying to be as clever and obscure as possible. This kind of sends up warning signals – I wonder what Hornby would make of Italo Calvino, for example.

Naturally the only test of this is to look at books we have both read. Hornby gives Dickens the big thumbs up (score one), and The Da Vinci Code and The Poet the big thumbs down (scores two and three). He was disappointed in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (score four) and describes Finnegan’s Wake as “inpossible to get through” (score five – and an extra point for going against general literary belief!). McEwan’s Saturday does well (score seven), but then so does Catcher in the Rye (yes I know, I am supposed to love it, but I don’t!). So overall, I guess we tend to agree on books. That said, I have added six books recommended by Hornby to my list (check out the updated version). I could flick through the pages of the book again in a couple of months and no doubt get more recommendations. You would every time you looked through it.

As a read, The Complete Polysyllabic Spree was enjoyable, although it is not the sort of book you would read in one sitting. I would spread it over, a bit at a time and absorb it. Too much in one hit and it starts to get monotonous. But I think that could be more of the nature of my relationship with non-fiction than anything else. Hornby himself approaches the subject matter well. He talks about the web that is created by our reading – one books leads us to another, and then another. We follow authors and subjects and styles and so on. He is very readable, often discussing the strange group of people who edit The Believer and their even stranger rules for his column (he is banned no less than three times during the publication dates of the entries) and ruminates on what makes a good book. It’s worth a look for any keen reader – especially one who writes her own book blog!

If interested, apparently this volume is followed by Housekeeping vs The Dirt.


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