The Polysyllabic Spree

I read a lot of books on my holiday, but my favourite was probably Nick Hornby's The Polysyllabic Spree. I picked it up in my last few hours in Delhi. I had a pile of books I'd read that I didn't want to take home. I lugged them between the second-hand shops on Paharganj's Main Bazaar, trying to find something decent to swap for them (there's a whole post to come on reading and buying books in India).

There was nothing in the bookstalls that grabbed me, so I decided to take a chance on the Nick Hornby book. I'm glad I did. The book was good enough that I read for a couple of hours on the flight home, despite being exhausted. I struggled not to laugh out loud at times.

The Polysyllabic Spree is a reading diary that Hornby kept for the Believer Magazine. During the course of the book he compares LP Hartley's The Shrimp and the Anemone with Mötley Crüe biography The Dirt; discusses the problems with novel about writers; and proposes a legal limit to biography length based on the subject's importance.

I particularly loved the book's introduction where Hornby talks about reading for pleasure. After pointing out that 12 million adults in the UK have a reading age of less than 13, Hornby questions the idea that literary novels are superior to books like the Da Vinci Code: "If reading is to survive as a leisure activity… then we have to promote the joys of reading rather than the (dubious) benefits" A version of the introduction is available on the Telegraph website, and is well worth reading.

Hornby was restricted by the magazine's editorial policy in that he could only say positive things about the books he read. At first Hornby chafed against this prohibition, but finally resolved to abandon any book he didn't enjoy. The enthusiasm Hornby shows for the books he likes is invigorating.

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2 thoughts on “The Polysyllabic Spree”

  1. Brilliant idea – and I’ve nver read that Hornby – do you think it might convert me to his cause?
    His is an interesting idea: I run regularly, but not because I expect to win a race, perhaps we should view reading in the same ‘jog for the masses’ way rather than as the ‘elite’ activity that literary fiction suggests?

  2. If you find Hornby irritating then parts of the Polysyllabic Spree might be unbearably smug. I imagine some of the self-referential jokes might work better in a magazine than bound in a book.
    I enjoyed your post in response to this – I imagine we’ll have an interesting discussion about it when we next meet up!

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