Tag: McSweeney’s

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

Posted November 27, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick HornbyTitle: The Complete Polysyllabic Spree (Goodreads)
Author: Nick Hornby
Published: Viking, 2005
Pages: 278
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

While Nick Hornby is best known for his fiction that includes books like High Fidelity and About a Boy, some maybe familiar with his column in The Believer called Stuff I’ve Been Reading. The Complete Polysyllabic Spree is the combination of two U.S. titles from his column, The Polysyllabic Spree and Housekeeping vs. the Dirt. The title is a reference to the Dallas choral rock band The Polyphonic Spree, a group with over twenty members in it. Hornby often describes the works of The Believer in this way; “all dressed in white robes and smiling maniacally, sort of like a literary equivalent of The Polyphonic Spree.”

In fact, The Believer is a literary magazine created by Dave Eggers and part of the McSweeney’s company; it also focuses on other forms of the arts and general culture. It started in 2003 and releases nine issues a year; this book takes Hornsby’s column from September 2003 to mid-2006. Each article follows the same basic format, first listing books he bought that month, and then the books he read. However due to The Believers guidelines all books he hated must be listed as untitled. This is followed by an essay talking about these books and future reading plans, often between 500 to 2000 words.

What I thought was interesting is the fact that Nick Hornby took a very simple formula and worked within the confines of it successfully. As stated in a previous What I Think about When I’m Not Blogging post, this has inspired me to write more personal essays. However I have to say, I was a little disappointed by this book, simply because he kept to the same formula and never grew or evolved as a reader or writer. I like the idea but I would have liked to see some growth or experimentation; I also think if you don’t mention the books you don’t like can’t really give a true representation of your reading life, but I do understand their policy.

I have to also mention that Nick Hornby has a strong aversion to literary fiction and will actively poke at it. The idea that people only read literary fiction to become literary snobs felt a little off colour; I embrace my pretentious nature but I read literary fiction because I love the proses. His reading tastes are very narrow and focus mainly on popular fiction; this type of article would be far more interesting if the writer was interested in exploring all types of literature. I am fascinated by books about books and learning about someone’s reading journey but this was like watching someone run in the same spot. There was no risk-taking and no changes from article to article; to make matters worse I did not add a single book to my TBR as a result of reading this.