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The Polysyllabic Spree The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby
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“All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal. ... But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Books are, let's face it, better than everything else. If we played cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go 15 rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form had to offer, then books would win pretty much every time. Go on, try it. “The Magic Flute” v. Middlemarch? Middlemarch in six. “The Last Supper” v. Crime and Punishment? Fyodor on points. See? I mean, I don’t know how scientific this is, but it feels like the novels are walking it. You might get the occasional exception -– “Blonde on Blonde” might mash up The Old Curiosity Shop, say, and I wouldn’t give much for Pale Fire’s chance against Citizen Kane. And every now and again you'd get a shock, because that happens in sport, so Back to the Future III might land a lucky punch on Rabbit, Run; but I'm still backing literature 29 times out of 30.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“I don't want anyone writing in to point out that I spend too much money on books, many of which I will never read. I know that already. I certainly intend to read all of them, more or less. My intentions are good. Anyway, it's my money. And I'll bet you do it too.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
tags: books
“In other words, it's one of those books you thrust on your partner with an incredulous cry of "This is me!”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“I suddenly had a little epiphany: all the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“A couple of months ago, I became depressed by the realization that I'd forgotten pretty much everything I've ever read. I have, however, bounced back: I am now cheered by the realization that if I've forgotten everything I've ever read then I can read some of my favorite books again as if for the first time.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Being a reader is sort of like being president, except reading involves fewer state dinners, usually. You have this agenda you want to get through, but you get distracted by life events, e.g., books arriving in the mail/World War III, and you are temporarily deflected from your chosen path.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Books are, let's face it, better than everything else.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Hey, great idea: if you have kids, give your partner reading vouchers next Christmas. Each voucher entitles the bearer to two hours' reading time *while the kids are awake*. It might look like a cheapskate present, but parents will appreciate that it costs more in real terms than a Lamborghini.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Books are, let's face it, better than everything else. If we played Cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go fifteen rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form had to offer, then books would win pretty much every time.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Where would David Copperfield be if Dickens had gone to writing classes? Probably about seventy minor characters short, is where. (Did you know that Dickens is estimated to have invented thirteen thousand characters? Thirteen thousand! The population of a small town!)”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Anyone and everyone taking a writing class knows that the secret of good writing is to cut it back, pare it down, winnow, chop, hack, prune, and trim, remove every superfluous word, compress, compress, compress...

Actually, when you think about it, not many novels in the Spare tradition are terribly cheerful. Jokes you can usually pluck out whole, by the roots, so if you're doing some heavy-duty prose-weeding, they're the first to go. And there's some stuff about the whole winnowing process I just don't get. Why does it always stop when the work in question has been reduced to sixty or seventy thousand words--entirely coincidentally, I'm sure, the minimum length for a publishable novel? I'm sure you could get it down to twenty or thirty if you tried hard enough. In fact, why stop at twenty or thirty? Why write at all? Why not just jot the plot and a couple of themes down on the back of an envelope and leave it at that? The truth is, there's nothing very utilitarian about fiction or its creation, and I suspect that people are desperate to make it sound manly, back-breaking labor because it's such a wussy thing to do in the first place. The obsession with austerity is an attempt to compensate, to make writing resemble a real job, like farming, or logging. (It's also why people who work in advertising put in twenty-hour days.) Go on, young writers--treat yourself to a joke, or an adverb! Spoil yourself! Readers won't mind!”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“I'm never going to complain about receiving free early copies of books, because clearly there's nothing to complain about, but it does introduce a rogue element into one's otherwise carefully plotted reading schedule. ...

Being a reader is sort of like being president, except reading involves fewer state dinners, usually. You have this agenda you want to get through, but you get distracted by life events, e.g., books arriving in the mail/World War III, and you are temporarly deflected from your chosen path. ”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“(about organizing books in his home library, and putting a book in the "Arts and Lit non-fiction section)

I personally find that for domestic purposes, the Trivial Pursuit system works better than Dewey.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“We are never allowed to forget that some books are badly written; we should remember that sometimes they're badly read, too.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“So this is supposed to be about the how, and when, and why, and what of reading -- about the way that, when reading is going well, one book leads to another and to another, a paper trail of theme and meaning; and how, when it's going badly, when books don't stick or take, when your mood and the mood of the book are fighting like cats, you'd rather do anything but attempt the next paragraph, or reread the last one for the tenth time.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Clockers" asks--almost in passing, and there's a lot more to it than this--a pretty interesting question: if you choose to work for the minimum wage when everyone around you is pocketing thousands from drug deals, then what does that do to you, to your head and to your heart?

(Hornby's thoughts after reading "Clockers" by Richard Price)”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“contemporary poetry is a kind of Reykjavik, a place where accessibility and intelligence have been fighting a Cold War by proxy for the last half-century. ”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“One of the reasons I wanted to write this column, I think, is because I assumed that the cultural highlight of my month would arrive in book form, and that’s true, for probably eleven months of the year. Books are, let’s face it, better than everything else…. Even if you love movies and music as much as you do books, it’s still, in any given four week period, way, way more likely you’ll find a great book that you haven’t read than a great movie you haven’t seen, or a great album you haven’t heard: the assiduous consumer will eventually exhaust movies and music… the feeling everyone has with literature: that we can’t get through the good novels published in the last six months, let alone those published since publishing began.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Zaid's finest moment, however, comes in his second paragraph, when he says that "the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more."

That's me! And you, probably! That's us!”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“We fought, Wilkie Collins and I. We fought bitterly and with all our might, to a standstill, over a period of about three weeks, on trains and aeroplanes and by hotel swimming pools. Sometimes – usually late at night, in bed – he could put me out cold with a single paragraph; every time I got through twenty or thirty pages, it felt to me as though I’d socked him good, but it took a lot out of me, and I had to retire to my corner to wipe the blood and sweat off my reading glasses. Only in the last fifty-odd pages, after I’d landed several of these blows, did old Wilkie show any signs buckling under the assault.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“I don't mind nothing happening in a book, but nothing happening in a phony way--characters saying things people never say, doing jobs that don't fit, the whole works--is simply asking too much of a reader. Something happening in a phony way must beat nothing happening in a phony way every time, right? I mean, you could prove that, mathematically, in an equation, and you can't often apply science to literature.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Years and years ago, I read a great interview with Jam and Lewis, the R&B producers, in which they described what it was like to be members of Prince's band. They'd sit down, and Prince would tell them what he wanted them to play, and they'd explain that they couldn't--they weren't quick enough, or good enough. And Prince would push them and push them until they mastered it, and then just when they were feeling pleased with themselves for accomplishing something they didn't know they had the capacity for, he'd tell them the dance steps he needed to accompany the music.

This story has stuck with me, I think, because it seems like an encapsulation of the very best and most exciting kind of creative process.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“I personally find that for domestic purposes, the Trivial Pursuit system works better than Dewey.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Dave and Serge...played the Fiddler's Elbow as if it were Giants Stadium, and even though it was acoustic, they just about blew the place up. They were standing on chairs adn lying on the floor, they were funny, they charmed everyone in the pub apart from an old drunk ditting next to the drum kit...who put his fingers firmly in his ears during Serge's extended harmonica solo. It was utterly bizarre and very moving: most musicians wouldn't have bothered turning up, let alone almost killing themselves. And I was reminded...how rarely one feels included in a live show. Usually you watch, and listen, and drift off, and the band plays well or doesn't and it doesn't matter much either way. It can actually be a very lonely experience. But I felt a part of the music, and a part of the people I'd gone with, and, to cut this short before the encores, I didn't want to read for about a fortnight afterward. I wanted to write, but I didn't want to read no book. I was too itchy, too energized, and if young people feel like that every night of the week, then, yes, literature 's dead as a dodo.

(Nick's thoughts after seeing Marah at a little pub called Fiddler's Elbow.)”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Did you know that Jacques Benveniste, one of the world's leading homeopathic "scientists," now claims that you can *email* homeopathic remedies? Yeah, see, what you do is you can take the "memory" of the diluted substance out of the water electromagnetically, put it on your computer, email it, and play it back on a sound card into new water. I mean, that could work, right?

(Nick's thoughts after reading Francis Wheen's book "How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World")”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Defeated misery is what all sport is about, eventually, if you follow the story for long enough; all sportsmen know this.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“(from his random observations after reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens)

In the Old Curiosity Shop I discovered that in the character of Dick Swiveller, Dickens provided P.G. Wodehouse with pretty much the whole of his oeuvre. In David Copperfield, David's bosses Spenlow and Jorkins are what must be the earliest fictional representations of good cop/bad cop.”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“Needless to say, drink, drugs, food, and sex played no part in the festivities. But who needs any of that when you've got literature?”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree
“I recently discovered that a friend who was re-reading Bleak House had done no other Dickens apart from Barnaby Ridge. That's just weird. I shamed and nagged him into picking up Great Expectations instead. But when I tried to recall anything about it other than its excellence, I failed. Maybe there was something about a peculiar stepfather? Or was that This Boy's Life? And I realized that, as this is true of just about every book I consumed between the ages of, say fifteen to forty, I havent even read the books I think I've read. I can't tell you how depressing this is. What's the fucking point?”
Nick Hornby, The Polysyllabic Spree

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