Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby

My visit to UC Berkeley is ending this week and I am supposed to work, but algebraic manipulations are boring and blogging is (somewhat more) fun. After the dead serious Inquiry Into the Human Prospect by Heilbroner, I almost by accident, and in desperation, picked up Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby. Shakespeare Wrote for Money is a collection of columns Hornby has written for the American magazine Believer. In the column, he writes about books he has read the last month. He also writes about books he has abandoned and books he hasn’t read. And he writes as much about reading as about what he has been reading and everything is quite enjoyable. Hornby is a funny guy, and that he is English and lives in London while writing for an American audience makes for several funny comments upon the many differences between the two countries.

HornbyShakespeareShakespeare is also disturbing. I like to think of myself as a reader, but alongside Hornby’s average of more than a book per week I look like an analphabet. And as if not my to-read list was long from before, it is longer now, as I find myself tempted to read most, if not all, of the books Hornby writes of. Some are:

  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe – Elizabeth Kolbert (This was on my list from before, should have read it long ago but still on my Amazon wish-list.)
  • Imperium – Robert Harris (A novel about Cicero, of all things. Sounds like a good read, but I will likely read Cicero’s De Oratore first. That is the plan, anyway.)
  • Fun Home – Alison Bechdel
  • Light Years – James Salter (Was also on my list from before, higher up now, perhaps in part because Hornby reports that he only buys the book, but not that he reads it.)
  • Essays – George Orwell (Well, I once bought his collected novels and have still only read Animal Farm, but I have recently taken to read essay collections rather than proper books.)
  • 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare – James Shapiro (“The only thing you have to care about to love this book is why and how things get written.” How can I not want to read 1599?)
  • In My Father’s House – Miranda Seymore
  • On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
  • Coming Through Slaughter – Michael Ondaatje

About Coming Through Slaughter, Hornby describes a situation I recognize myself in:

I had been having some trouble with the whole idea of fiction, trouble that seemed in some way connected with my recent landmark birthday [Hornby just turned 50; I am not there yet, but still am still bothered]; it seemed to my that a lot of novels were, to be blunt, made up, and could teach me little about the world. Life suddenly seemed so short that I needed facts, and I needed them fast. I picked up Coming Through Slaughter in the spirit of kill or cure, and I was cured-I have only read fiction since I finished it.  […] It seems to me as though anybody who has doubts about the value of fiction should read this book: it leaves you with the sort of ache that nonfiction can never provide, and provides an intensity and glow that are the unique product of a singular imagination laying its gauze over the brilliant light of the world. Ondaatje writes about [jazz] music wonderfully well: you couldn’t ask for anyone better to describe the sound of the crack that must happen when one form is being bent too far out of shape in an attempt to form something else. […] I am still thinking about this novel, remembering the heat it threw off, weeks after finishing it. […] [H]urrah for fiction! Down with facts! Facts are for the dull, and the straight, and the old! You’ll never find out anything about the world through facts! [That was what I was afraid of when I decided life was too short for fiction. I found my cure in Neil Gaiman. Neil releases a new book next week, by the way, and I have, in the heat of the moment, ordered a signed copy. And I who thought I didn’t bother about such things anymore.]

Getting back to my list of books now added to my to-read list:

  • Skellig – David Almond (At some point voted the third greatest children’s book of the last seventy years.)
  • Sharp Teeth – Toby Barlow (A novel about werewolves in Los Angeles, written in blank verse!)
  • Tom’s Midnight Garden – Philippa Pearce (Made Hornby cry!)
  • Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences – Lawrence Weschler

Reading all of that will probably kill me, but it is there on my to-read list at least, and if I ever get to half of it I’ll by quite happy about it. It is fun and interesting to read about other’s reading. I am, however, ambivalent about it, as I feel in trouble with my own reading. I read to slowly (or rather, I do not spend enough time reading, but life has so much else to spend time on, like work, kids, music, love), and my to-read list grows way too fast. Another problem, which Hornby also seems to have, is that I tend not to read books from my to-read list, but rather whatever comes along.


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