Today has seen the completion of Nick Hornby’s The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, a book mentioned in this post a couple of weeks ago. In all honesty, I don’t have a lot to add to that post, even now I’ve read all 274 pages. It was certainly an entertaining read, and the intention to note the books Hornby talked about that piqued my own interest has been a miserable failure; I spent more time looking out for books I’d already read to see what Hornby made of them (there weren’t many).
Ordinarily, the fact that very few of the books or authors were familiar would have been a source of some disappointment, making me feel that however much I love books, I love the ‘wrong ones’. After all, if I’m not reading what a popular and successful author likes reading, just what on earth is it that I am reading?
However, the superb introduction to The Complete Polysyllabic Spree ensured this wasn’t the case, and given that the book now has to go back to the library, I wanted to record some select extracts of that introduction:
“My solution was to try to choose books I knew I would like. I’m not sure this idea is as blindingly obvious as it seems. We often read books that we think we ought to read, or that we think we ought to have read, or that other people think we should read (I’m always coming across people who have a mental list, sometimes even an actual, list of the books they think they should have read by the time they turn forty, fifty or dead)…”
“It has proved surprisingly easy to eliminate boredom from my reading life.”
“One of the problems, it seems to me, is that we have got it into our heads that books should be hard work, and that unless they’re hard work, they’re not doing us any good.”
“If reading books is to survive as a leisure activity – and there are statistics which show that this is by no means assured – then we have to promote the joys of reading, rather than the (dubious) benefits. I would never attempt to dissuade anyone from reading a book. But please, if you’re reading a book that’s killing you, put it down and read something else…”
“Dickens is Literary now, of course, because the books are old. But his work has survived not because he makes you think, but because he makes you feel, and he makes you laugh, and you need to know what is going to happen to his characters.”
“And please, please stop patronising those who are reading a book – The Da Vinci Code, maybe – because they are enjoying it. For a start, none of us knows what kind of an effort this represents for the individual reader. It could be his or her first full-length adult novel; it might be the book that finally reveals the purpose and joy of reading to someone who has hitherto been mystified by the attraction books exert on others. And anyway, reading for enjoyment is what we should all be doing. I don’t mean we should all be reading chick-lit or thrillers (although if that’s what you want to read, it’s fine by me, because here’s something else no one will ever tell you: if you don’t read the classics, or the novel that won this year’s Booker Prize, then nothing bad will happen to you; more importantly, nothing good will happen to you if you do); I simply mean that turning pages should not be like walking through thick mud.”
Taking all that into account, The Complete Polysyllabic Spree might be the one of the most important books I ever read.