People Who Write About Reading

December 21, 2009 @ 7:42 pm | Filed under:

I am pining for Nick Hornby’s “Stuff I’m Reading” column, the one he wrote for The Believer. The one he stopped writing in September of 2008. The column that was published in three collected editions, which I wrote about here.

And here.

And here.

I love the way Hornby writes (wrote) about reading. He didn’t review books so much as he meditated upon his reading life. These ruminations were smart, funny, thought-provoking, and appetite-whetting.

I miss them.

Noel Perrin is another writer-about-reading whose work—A Child’s Delight and A Reader’s Delight—I greatly enjoy. He foreshadowed book blogs, really, with his self-appointed mission to talk about backlist titles most people have missed, but (in his view) shouldn’t have.

Who else? Who writes about the reading life in a way that makes you hungry to read the same books?

Ms. Mental Multivitamin comes to mind. (She’s the person from whom I learned about Hornby’s Believer column in the first place.) Oh, and Lizzie Skurnick, she of Jezebel’s Fine Lines column. In Fine Lines, Lizzie has revisited a vast number of the books she read as a child and teenager—everything from A Wrinkle in Time to Summer of Fear. Her columns, which are sometimes salty and often snarky, are insightful and always respectful of the text. Many of them were collected in a book called Shelf Discovery, which I ought to have put on my 2009 books-I-read list somewhere except I couldn’t figure out which month it should go under. Not that it matters, of course. Shelf Discovery was my take-along tome to gymnastics and other wait-y places last fall, so the reading of it stretched out over about three months, in fits and starts. I’d read and enjoyed many of the columns republished in the book, and they were just as engaging the second time around.

I subscribe to a staggering number of book blogs—so many that I feel quite paralyzed at the thought of singling any out by name. How could I choose? I can’t keep up with them all, anyway. I do tend to stay more current with the blogs that, like Hornby, discuss books rather than review them. It’s hard to explain. Before I’ve read a book, I don’t want to know too much about it. As I’m reading it, I burn burn burn to talk about it with anyone who will listen, and I have a habit of thrusting book after book upon longsuffering friends and husbands, begging them to read what I’m reading so we can tawk amongst ourselves.

Scott stayed up too late last night finishing a new Nick Hornby novel, Juliet Naked. Would you believe I haven’t read a single one of Hornby’s novels? I’ve seen the films based on his fiction: About a Boy (heart with many hearts) and High Fidelity (makes me extremely cranky). But I’ve not read the fiction itself. That’s very strange, considering the way I have devoured his literary nonfiction. This time Scott’s the one urging me to read the book. It’s funny, though. I thoroughly enjoy Hornby’s insights about other fiction, but I’m not sure I trust his wry, exasperated, subversive self to give me a story that’ll work the way I want a story to work. I guess we’ll see.

How far do you think I’ll get before I have to come write about it?

    Related Posts


9 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Veronica Mitchell says:

    I love the blog of the Cincinnati Mercantile Library. It’s smart, funny and comfortably book-nerdy.

  2. Karen in SC says:

    You HAVE to read _High Fidelity_ (and _About a Boy_). My husband and I both worked at an independent record store over 25 years ago, and everything he wrote in _High Fidelity_ rang true to what we experienced there. When I read that book, I followed my husband around reading him one part after another, and when I finished, he read it for himself. Though I don’t love all his fiction, I love those two books.

  3. Ellie says:

    I do not care for Hornby’s fiction. (I may or may not have typed and deleted a stronger descriptor). So if you were to ask me (which you didn’t *smile*) I would say: you aren’t missing anything. I know one Lit. Dep’t in particular that swoons for him. Eh, I say. Eh. Oh, to have those countless hours — drained away under the weight of reading, analyzing, discussing, writing on Hornby — back again! Oh, well.

  4. monica says:

    those are the book blogs I like too – the ones that discuss reading and all the goodness that goes with it. all reviews on a blog bore me.

    give me personality!

  5. Melissa Wiley says:

    Karen, did you see the film version of High Fidelity? I loved pretty much every second of the scenes inside the record store, and hated much of what happened outside. I enjoyed watching my husband squirm at how on the mark the characterizations of serious music lovers were. There’s a point in the film when John Cusack puts a Springsteen record on and it starts playing “The River” (I think), and Scott leaned over and whispered to me, “He put the needle on the wrong track.” Those record store guys are his people, all right.

    About a Boy is one of those movies I watch over and over—it’s what I picked last week on my birthday, in fact!—so I think my avoidance of the book has to do with not wanting to alter my experience of the film. Usually it’s the other way around—if I’ve loved a book I don’t always want to see the film version because then the characters will change appearance in my head when I read.

    Veronica, thanks for the rec; I’ll check it out!

  6. T says:

    Have your kids seen About a Boy? After that great recommendation of it, I was just looking it up and saw it is PG-13. I am guessing it’s no good for 8-year-old kids, for instance?

  7. Melissa Wiley says:

    Tabatha, no, none of my kids have seen it. The movie opens with Hugh Grant’s character deciding that single mothers make excellent one-night stands. Ahem. Not kiddie fare, for sure. 🙂

  8. Karen in SC says:

    Oh yes, I’ve seen and love both movies. I don’t think I could have forgiven them moving it out of London for anyone except John Cusack. That’s funny about Scott and the tracking on the Springsteen album. The book and the movie were spot on (I worked in the record store for four years; my husband did for 26 years). We worked with the smarmy, superior guy and with the serious, quiet guy that was always ready to make you a tape. There’s even more of that stuff in the book.

    These are the rare books/movies pairs that I’m able to enjoy each as they are without comparisons or worrying about what they should have been.

    Another great one is his autobiography _Fever Pitch_. It’s about his obsession with British football, and though I’m not a sports fan at all, I love the book. There are a lot of parallels between the football and music obsession. The movie is one of my favorites, too…of course, I mean the Colin Firth, not the Jimmy Fallon version. I think it’s cool that his three movies made into books star my three favorite actors.