Thursday, 25 September 2014

Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby Review

In September 2003, Nick Hornby’s first Stuff I’ve Been Reading column was printed in The Believer magazine. It had two lists at the start: Books Bought and Books Read (which never synced up!), followed by reviews of the books read in Hornby’s inimitable, charming style. This omnibus edition collects all of the columns published since then up to June 2013 (so it’s technically almost 10 years, but not quite!).

A lot of this material has been published before in four previous books: The Polysyllabic Spree, Housekeeping vs The Dirt, Shakespeare Wrote for Money, and More Baths, Less Talking. And if you’re a fan of these columns like me, then you’ve already read those books and therefore most of this book too. 

Why almost? Well, in the same way that a band might cobble together a “new” record by throwing a new song or two together with previously released tracks, there are some unpublished new columns included in this book. They cover January 2012 to June 2013, or, to be precise, 58 new pages (and a 5 page intro by Jess Walter). 

That is a bit of a pisstake, Mr Hornby. I do want to read a new edition of your Stuff I’ve Been Reading columns but I don’t want to pay for an overpriced hardback just to read a third of one! This is just cynical marketing. 

So, what about the new stuff - is it worth reading? Well, not really. I mean, they’re ok but they’re not Hornby’s funniest columns and I didn’t pick up any interesting recs. I learnt that the austerity Olympics held in Britain in 1948 were crazy cheap, that Rod Stewart has the mind of a teenager, and Hornby is hysterically worried about ebooks and the future of publishing, but is that worth forking over a sizable amount for a book where a longtime reader will just want this new stuff? Hardly. 

That said, if you’ve never read any of the columns before and you enjoy reading about someone talking about reading books, this is definitely worth picking up. Hornby isn’t an academic reviewer and his columns are very accessible and funny, and The Believer has a policy of no bad-mouthing books, so all of the columns are positive reviews of books he’s read (with the ones he didn’t like and/or abandoned censored as simply XX by YY in the Books Read list). There’s a reason why the column has gone on for so many years and why readers like me keep returning even if certain collections are crappier than others. 

If you’re thinking of getting this for the new stuff, I’d hang on until Hornby’s written enough columns for a new collection to be published. These newer columns just aren’t essential enough reading for you to pay over and above for them along with a lot of stuff you’ve already got/read. But this is a value-for-money bundle for those who’ve never read these columns, and I highly recommend checking them out if you never have before.

Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books

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