Rethinking My Reading, Thanks to Nick Hornby

A word to the wise: this is a long one. It’s about how I read Nick Hornby, and what happened to me when I read it. It’s a reflection on how I’ve been making a mess of this blog, on what my intentions really are. I have not actually begged you guys out right to read anything in this young blog, but now I am. Please read this. For the love of all that is good and holy, like pandas and Hershey’s Nuggets, I would love for you to read this, whoever you are.

I have a feeling that Hornby’s book will dictate the workings of this book blog. I suppose, writing this, it already has. See, when I began this blog, I just wanted it to be a record of how I trudged through my out-of-control TBR Land Mass—also, having an internetful of strangers. My foibles, my adventures, the moments when I threw books back into the shadowed corners of my bookshelves. I didn’t want this to be a book review blog, mainly because book reviews require the writer to summarize the plot, and as fifteen years of education can attest, I absolutely suck at writing summaries. I began this blog a couple of weeks after my twentieth birthday, several weeks after I’d finally read One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chekhov, and tried to fight my way through Lolita. I wanted it to be a record of what I’ve been up to since the so-called Beginning of the Rest of Your Life.

Also, well, this was supposed to be a blog about how I read the books, my life in reading, so to speak, the circumstances that surround how I picked something up, sat through it, put it down. That I have always loved Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse because I read it in the first few months of my relationship with The Boyfriend. That as much as I wanted to love Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I couldn’t get over the feeling that it was a boy’s thing. That despite the unbelievable snootiness of the entire concept, I really do love how damaged Foucault is, and how that translates into his O.C.-ridden oeuvre.

So it was going to be a blog about the books I hated, and the books I loved, and the books I have long ago ignored and those that are yet to be discovered (and those I want to rediscover—when was the last time I reread Jane Eyre, or Dorian Gray?). I wanted this to be personal, because nothing is as close to my heart as the things I read.

Enter the book I read last night. Reading Housekeeping Vs. The Dirt by Nick Hornby allowed me to verbalize what has been bugging me for the last month or so—that not only do I need to reexamine the directions of this little whimsy I call a book blog, but to reexamine what I read, how I read, and why I read the way I do—and how I share all this. The book is a compilation of Hornby’s Believer column on books and reading. That column, as explained to us by the author in the preface, isn’t a review thing, it’s a reading thing. It’s a place where Hornby can share his reading and his reading experience. It’s about why he wept when reading SF by Iain M. Banks, why Bob Dylan’s Chronicles caught him off-guard, why Anne Tyler is the writer that made him want to write. Those kinds of things.

Hornby and I do not have the same taste in books, that needs to be said. In a week, I seesaw from literary fiction to romance novels to obscure books found in book sales that must be literary because why else would they be found in book sales? Ha. Haha. Haaah. Watch it. Hornby’s tastes run to the, hm, British literary fiction (which, for some reason, I have trouble getting into), some manly stuff and other manly stuff (haha), high-brow detective novels, modern classics, Literaries (even if he makes fun of his tendencies). Most of the books and authors he lists in his column intros “Books Bought” and “Books Read” I have never heard of before. These parts, I skim through, partly because I didn’t want to spend my time reading about something I’ll probably won’t ever read myself (like Gilead—it just doesn’t appeal to me), mostly because I couldn’t relate. Once in a while, he’ll read a book I have read, or have always wanted to read, and I giddily leaned in to learn what he thought of it. Those moments, I allow myself to think, OMG Hornby, we’re friends now. Sometimes, he’ll talk about a book, and I’ll want to read that, like Ghosting by Jennie Erdal or the Persepolis books by Marjane Satrapi, though I suppose I’ll probably be sixty-seven until I get my hands on these I’ve-never-heard-of-before books (SASHA IS NOW ACCEPTING CHRISTMAS GIFTS). But all throughout—familiar books and otherwise—Hornby reflects on his reading, and those are the times I relax and stop, and let his oh-so-wry wisdom wash over me. Hah.

He is so unapologetic about his impressions—even if they tend to be over books he liked and enjoyed (an administrative dictum that encourages that Believer to be a haven for writers—no lambasting, no “bad reviews,” no matter how honest, and how well-intentioned—something that I appreciate, if only for the fact that one can focus on the books one loves).

I also love the fact that he writes about the books written by people he’s friends with, or are related to. His brother-in-law, for example, his sister, a handful of close peers. Never mind bias. It reminds me that I need to talk about the local titles I read and enjoy. See, the literary community here in the Philippines is so darned small, everybody really does know everybody in one way or another. And I’m glad to be friends with people who have written good books (as opposed to being friends with people who have written terrible books? Eyng?), but then I think about how icky it might appear that I’m praising the work of someone who has helped me stumble home on more than one occasion. But bah, that’s unfair—unfair to me, to how I read, to how I like books, to my judgment, to the author. So. Yeah. I’ve been dying to tell you about Larry Ypil’s book of poems, The Highest Hiding Place. Soon, darlings, soon.

I was pouting by the time I reached the last essay, as a child pouts because the higher-ups have deemed No more chocolate for you little missy. I wanted more. More essays, more compilations, more columns, more Hornby Is Reading. Because I like the way he thinks, even if I don’t agree with everything he says. Because I like being reminded of what I love, that I should love what I love.

So. For this blog, no more promos, no more hungry-networking, no more stat-uppers disguised as comments. No more reading challenges on genres I would never really want to touch on a good day. No more reediting the header. No more, no more, no more. No more cutesy-patootsy “reviews”—I suppose all of you are too polite to say anything about the fumbling I’ve made, haha, that was me trying to be informative. Hell. No more gimmicks, no more wanting-you-to-agree-with me. No more chores. That’s not me. (I have even thought to curb my occasional DO NOT READ THIS BOOK, as well as my more usual [thank heavens] READ THIS BOOK NOW—but then, I thought, I’ll probably the say the same things to my friends over a round of beer, so those stay. But I’ll try not to be snooty about it.)

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love meeting people I know I’ll never actually get to see in person. I love loving a book with someone on the other side of the world, I love walking in on someone’s reading life and leaving a comment about how wonderful it is that we picked up the same thing and had almost the same thoughts. I love dissent, too, and arguments. I love people who love their books, and aren’t snooty about it. No, I have never read Tolstoy—who was it that said just summoning his name invokes a deep fatigue?—but I have sworn to read Jane Austen because I want to back up my lifelong motto, Rochester Over Darcy Bitchez (there are currently four people in this club, and yes, my mother counts).

I just wanted to read, and I wanted someone out there to lean in giddily over one of two things. Let’s go back to the basics. Let’s actually love this reading thing. Let’s actually allow Sasha to love the fact that her mother crammed the house with all sorts of books, that one of her sweetest memories is when she, along with her two younger brothers, helped her daddy make mommy a bookshelf. Let’s let Sasha love her Mary Baloghs and her erotica, her Lorrie Moores and Raymond Carvers, her strange fondness for Masters and Johnson, and how she can go on and on and on about Barthes and Riceour and Nolledo and Sitoy. Let’s indulge Sasha’s fondness for referring to herself in the third person.

So. I don’t know how I’m going to do all this, how I’m going to change. Nothing radical. Although “silverfysh” has been annoying me for some time now—the correct “silverfish” was already taken by some evil person who doesn’t even use the wordpress blog. Bah. This means I’ll probably change addresses, revamp the whole blog, but something tells me that’s another gimmick, hahaha. [CARINA SANTOS HELP ME WITH TECHNOLOGICAL BLOG STUFF. I said that in all caps, bolded, so she’ll give in to peer pressure.]

I borrowed this from a friend (a certain poet named Mikael Co, whose first book everyone is waiting for, who has given me free reign over his as-ungainly TBR Land Mass), and I am fervently hoping that he will forget I ever did, forget that he ever owned it, that when his gaze alights on said book on my shelf, he will be compelled to say nothing but, “Oh, Hornby—how was it?” And I’ll say, Dude, it’s cool—I’ll let you borrow it, but I’m sort of using it as a manual these days, an inspiration, methinks. How about some, I dunno, some Byatt instead? There. You can have her.

Happy reading, everybody.

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21 comments

  1. I love this post! I have long been a fan of Nick Hornby’s Believer column and read it similarly to the way you do. I’m really excited to see where you end up!

    1. I’ve been trying to hunt them down online! And wondering if “The Polysyllabic Spree” has the same concept. :p

    2. Okay, just saw, yeah, previous book is a compilation of his Believer column too. :)

  2. I like this, especially since I’ve been feeling iffy about doing actual reviews (and I’m really not into anything like a rating system). I’d rather just talk about books that interest me – how they affected me, what I liked about them, any thoughts that came up while reading – rather than try to think about if I would necessarily recommend it to other people.

    1. I realized that I never actually wanted to do reviews–and everything that seems to go along with them, like, yes, reatings–it’s just not my thing. Not really what I wanted to do. So yeah, you said in a few lines what it took me three pages to get to, haha.

      I would still recommend though. But more in the attitude of, “Goodness, my friend, read this, it’s awesomesauce!” Less, I dunno, “I am an authority. Read it.” :]

  3. Wow. I love Hornby, but I haven’t been reading his latest. I need to get this. I love how moved you are by it!!

  4. I read this book when I first started blogging and I loved and hated it. I loved it because Hornby’s essays were exactly what I wanted my blog to be. I hated it for the same reason. I mean, come on! Here was a guy doing exactly what I was trying to do, and doing sooooooo much better. It was heart-breaking almost. But, then Nick and I became friends once I read a few books he discussed, and loved them. :)

    Hornby has two other collections of essays from his time at The Believer (sadly, he stopped writing for them about a year ago): “The Polysyllabic Spree,” which came out before “HvsD,” and “Shakespeare Wrote for Money,” which is the last collection. You should read those too, they’re just as good.

    Good luck revamping your blog. I know the feeling. Trust me.

  5. I wrote this reaaally long rambly reply but it got deleted–boo :(
    Anyway, I wanted to say I love this blog because it’s emotioncentric rather than lengthyplotcentric, if that makes sense. I started a book blog separate from my personal blog due to OCness and privacy issues but also because I wanted this space where I could go all nitpicky and gushy about books I loved and hated thinking mostly of the future me, selfishly (haha).
    On rating systems: I bloghop using links of blogs that I love, so when I like the way a certain person does reviews, I tend to check out his/her recommendations. I find that the ratings make this easier, because I’m lazy like that hahaha. It’s not something I take too seriously though (my rating system uses unicorns!) but I find that it provides easier recall for me on books to look out for.

    P.S. Persepolis? Remember “El Dorado” from my email? I think it’s there. :)

    P.S.S. This also made me think about how I’d like to blog: I’d like to become more unapologetic and personal and emotional, even if this means I end up having no readers except me hahaha.
    Thanks for bringing up those points. I want this book too! If you see more than one copy, could you also inform me so we could spread the Hornby lovin’?

    P.S.S. Remember Persephassa.com? Apparently she also loves Barthes. Maybe you’d like her.

  6. I forgot to say thank you in advance! (Re finding this book somewhere)
    Thanks in advance!

  7. Also, Sitoy, as in Lakambini Sitoy? Because I loved Jungle Planet. I also love Welostit, by Ma. Romina Gonzales, by the way. :)

    1. Yes, I loooove Lakambini Sitoy. When we became “friends” in Facebook, I could die happily, hahaha. Haven’t heard of Gonzales. Hmmm.

  8. OKAY I WILL HELP YOU.

    Also, I know what to give you for Christmas~*~*! I donut know if you will like it, but you can write about whether or not you do, here. :)

    1. Haha, took you long enough–I’ve been wondering if I should’ve posted that in bigger font.

      WHAT WHAT ARE YOU GETTING ME FOR CHRISTMAS. Hahaha, I have something for you! BOOKS! AND I DON’T KNOW IF YOU’LL LIKE THEM BECAUSE WE NEED TO TALK MORE ABOUT BOOKS.

      /we seriously need to bond in real life, hahaha

  9. […] Note: Read Sasha’s thoughts on this book some time ago, and I’ve kept Hornby’s name on my mental […]

  10. […] devil-may-care ‘tude makes her a must-blog-read for me: I first came upon her site because of this post on how reading Nick Hornby’s Housekeeping Vs. The Dirt reinvigorated her love of reading. She […]

  11. […] “Rethinking My Reading, Thanks to Nick Hornby.” Early on, a resolution to, well, to relax, gahdammit. […]

  12. Thank you for sharing this post. I’ve been feeling like I need to refocus my reading for about a year now. I’ve done some things this year to refocus, but it sounds like Mr. Hornby has some good insights. I’m put the book on my TBR list and will be following your progress as well.

    1. Thanks, Jessica. I wrote this months ago, but I’ve found that it’s still relevant. Sometimes, I forget these promises I made myself. So, yeah, a regrouping once in a while is always necessary. And I wish you all the luck with yours. :] Hope you get yourself some Hornby soon–he has three on-books books out, and it’s good to start anywhere. :]

  13. […] and funny, an also deeply personal; add quirky and charmingly off-kilter to that, and we have Nick Hornby. Nicholas A. Basbanes has a quiet dignity, much like a retired professor, spending most of […]

  14. […] don’t think I’ve ever had any interest in the Puritans. But Nick Hornby kept going on and on about Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates that when I saw it half-buried in a BookSale, priced […]

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