Thursday, 17 December 2009

31 Songs (Nick Hornby)

--The blurb--
"Here, Nick Hornby writes about 31 songs - most of them loved, some of them once loved, all of them significant to him. He begins with Teenage Fanclub's "Your Love is the Place that I Come From" and ends with Patti Smith's "Pissing in a River", encompassing varied singers along the way, such as Van Morrison and Nelly Furtado, and songs as different as "Thunder Road" and "Puff the Magic Dragon" (reggae style). He discusses, among other things, guitar solos, singers whose teeth whistle and the sort of music you hear in the Body Shop."

--The review--
As was noted in the previous review of Nick Hornby's work on this blog, he often keeps readers on their toes with his subject matter. He's just not the kind of writer who'll be bringing out "About A Boy 2: The Sequel" at some time in the future. Not that this precludes writers who do do this (such as Tony Parsons, or Helen Fielding, or Sue Townsend, or JK Rowling...) from being good or successful writers; Hornby is just a different kind of writer. This particular venture stays away from fiction altogether, choosing to instead explore songs that have figured highly in the author's life so far.

This is a risky strategy on multiple levels. Alongside the obvious point that some of Hornby's favourites listed in this book (I'm thinking particularly of relatively contemporary favourites, such as Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like A Bird") may quickly date and possibly also become superseded by other, more contemporary choices, a more serious pitfall may lie in the fact that such a book may be of quite a personal nature - and, more than this, be so specific to Hornby himself that readers may fail to find in it much in the way of relevance or value to their own lives.

Upon starting the book, however, this quickly ceases to be a concern (the only risk being one of envy at Hornby's clearly eclectic music taste). While reading through the book and feeling Hornby's enthusiasm for the songs he writes about does make you want to listen to them to hear what he's talking of for yourself, in a strange way it doesn't actually matter which songs are being discussed, for the dominant themes being discussed are the life lessons that the author has taken from them - and we all have songs that have made us feel this way. Even though there are poignant personal moments featured that clearly are specific to the writer, such as the disabilities of his son, this does not detract from the book's universal appeal - rather, it lends it a more interesting extra dimension in a book that is already seriously multifaceted.

Its structure - a series of short essays - makes it easy to pick up and put down again according to a reader's whims, and in typical Hornby fashion, the quality of the writing is high. If any improvements could be made, it would be for Hornby to take a leaf out of Alex Ross's book - the author of And The Rest Is Noise links the reader to a website that features all of the tracks that are talked about. Because regardless of a book's universality, it's pretty rare for any book to douse the flame of human curiosity.

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