01 January 2005

holiday gifts

I am too old for them, but I did receive one or two things this year, including a book by Nick Hornby called The Polysyllabic Spree from Believer Books, aka McSweeney's.

I've not been a Nick Hornby fan since I read one of his early novels (High Fidelity?) and thought it modern-Brit-dick-lit, but now I'll try another novel simply to honor and acknowledge these highly entertaining essays.

The MO for his monthly essay is to list the books he's bought and the books he's read and then natter on about them. Turns out in September, 2003, the month coincidentally when I first read Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping along with Antrim, Forche, Freed, Lispector, Norman Rush (speaking of male egos), and Salter (etc.), Nick was reading Ian Hamilton's biographies of Lowell and Salinger, and most of the Salinger oeuvre (etc.).

Here's Hornby on Lowell:

“. . . my baby son is called Lowell. We named him thus partly after various musicians—Lowell George and the blue singer Lowell Fulson—and partly because of Robert Lowell, whose work we had never read (in our defense, he is no longer terribly well-known here in England, and he isn't taught in school [what a pity and how illustrative of the British attitude toward American poetry]), but whose existence persuaded us, in our untrustworthy hormonal state, that the name had a generic artistic connotation. Our Lowell will almost certainly turn out to be a sales manager for a sportswear firm, whose only contact with literature is when he listens to Tom Clancy audiobooks once a year on holiday—not that there's anything wrong with that.”

and Hornby on poetry:

“Two of the unread books, however, are volumes of poetry, and, to my way of thinking, poetry books work more like books of reference. They go up on the shelves straight away (as opposed to onto the bedside table), to be taken down and dipped into every now and then. (And, before any outraged poets explode, I’d like to point out that I’m one of the seventy-three people in the world who buys poetry.) And anyway, anyone who is even contemplating ploughing straight through over a thousand pages of Lowell’s poetry clearly needs a cable TV subscription, or maybe even some friends, a relationship, and a job.”

When we were assigned the collected Lowell for an MFA seminar, I dipped and bobbed, then ploughed straight through (no cable TV) because I was hoping to find something I could like (apparently Hamilton found 50 poems he liked). By the time I finished, I knew more about poetry than I’d collected in the 56 years earlier. Sic transit gloria MFA.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Carol. Polysyllabic spree is on my to-read list. I adore Nick Hornby.

  2. what's your favorite hornby? i'll read it.

  3. I love Nick Hornby. I loved "High Fidelty" Read it when it first came out and it really struck a chord with me and then he came and did a reading at my favorite local pub (tiny little place). He's got a fantastic vibe on popular culture and also a very poignant, human undertone. "About a Boy" is also great (as is the movie--loved it!). And the most recent of his I read, "How to be Good."

  4. Nick Hornby did a reading at your local pub? I'm green with envy!

    My favourite is About A Boy. Both Will and Marcus were such rich characters, they could have had their own books, and throwing them together is just genius.

    Single Parents United Together!

  5. heeee! I loved it. did you like the movie, too? I thought I wouldn't like it because I always feel like I'm going to be irritated by Hugh Grant but I thought he was great in it.

  6. When Hugh Grant is perfectly cast, he is perfection. He was perfectly cast in that movie. And didn't you adore Toni Collette? That movie really did the book justice without slavishly imitating it.