[3 October 2012]
More Baths Less Talking by Nick Hornby is the latest in a series of books that pull from his “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column published in the Believer magazine. If you are familiar with the column or Hornby’s earlier books (such as The Complete Polysyllabic Spree: The Diary of an Occasionally Exasperated but Ever Hopeful Reader), you might stop reading this now because, most likely, you already know how witty and charming Hornby’s writing is, and I’m not certain I can tell you anything new. In short, if you liked Hornby’s previous books and/or his column, this book should be a pretty safe bet for you.
If, on the other hand, you aren’t familiar with Hornby and his work, More Baths Less Talking is a great introduction.
More Baths Less Talking looks at the books Hornby is reading (and sometimes the ones he didn’t quite get around to reading) from May 2010 to December 2011. Each entry in the book follows the same format as the column: “Hornby lists the books he’s bought that month, followed by the books he’s actually read. The seasoned reader, accustomed to the vicissitudes of a life spent accumulating books, can probably guess without checking that in any given month the Books Bought and Books Read lists hardly overlap.”
After the lists, comes the fun—Hornby’s reading experiences—which range from trying to read in a noisy household to trying to find a book to read: “I bought Fishing in Utopia because I found myself in a small and clearly struggling independent village-bookshop, and I was desperate to give the proprietor some money, but it was a struggle to find anything that I could imagine myself reading, among all the cookbooks and local histories”.
To those unfamiliar, a column (and now book) about what someone is reading may not sound that riveting, but Hornby’s musings range from inspirational to wickedly funny. First, not even two full pages into the book, Hornby says “vent my spleen”. To me, this should be proof enough of the book’s greatness. But if that’s not quite enough for you, don’t worry— Hornby has a lot more to offer.
More Baths Less Talking, like much of Hornby’s writing, is simply bookworm heaven. Many bibliophiles only like one thing more than reading books—and that’s talking about books. At its heart, More Baths Less Talking is simply a conversation about books, from one book person to another. Most of us probably just wish our conversations about books had as much style, as much panache as Hornby’s. But while Hornby may be wittier than the average reader, many of his statements suggest that he’s just another booklover at heart.
After all, who other than a book-obsessed individual would ever say: “Finishing Austerity Britain was indisputably my major achievement of the month, more satisfying, even, than sitting in a plush seat and applauding for three and a half hours while other people collected statuettes.” And would anyone other than a reader truly appreciate this sentiment?
Another common readerly sentiment: Why don’t more people read? Hornby has some thoughts on that, too:
“The quickest way to kill all love for the classics, I can see now, is to tell young people that nothing else matters, because then all they can do is look at them in a museum of literature, through glass cases. Don’t touch! And don’t think for a moment that they want to live in the same world as you! And so a lot of adult life—if your hunger and curiosity haven’t been squelched by your education—is learning to join up the dots that you didn’t even know were there.”
As part of the overall literary experience, Hornby addresses the realities of reading: “I first read Our Mutual Friend years and year ago, and didn’t enjoy the experience much, but I was almost certain that the fault was mine rather than the author’s. Something was going on at the time—divorce, illness, a newborn, or one of the other humdrum hazards that turn reading into a chore…” And Hornby admits when books don’t meet expectations:
“Game Change isn’t the book I thought it would be…I was expecting a thrilling and inspirational story, full of goodies and baddies, dizzying highs and dispiriting lows; instead, Heilemann and Halperin describe a long, strength-sapping, and bitter trudge to victory…This is not to say that Game Change is dull. It isn’t, because every page feels like the truth. It’s just that the truth isn’t as uplifting as you want to believe.”
But most of Hornby’s literary meanderings are heartening and filled with make-you-smile moments. When a writer expresses, as Hornby often does, such awe of fellow writers and their books, it’s a bit inspirational. His comments about Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks fall into that category; he states it “... is riveting, beautifully written, and yes, educational. I learned stuff. I learned so much stuff that I kept blurting it out to anyone who’d listen. Do you know who Henrietta Lacks was? Have you ever heard of the HeLa cells?... And so on. I’ll tell you, you don’t want to be living with me at the moment. I’m even more boring than usual.”
Don’t believe him, though. More Baths Less Talking doesn’t contain a boring passage and will, most likely more than once, make you laugh out loud. And of course, the added bonus: the great selection of must-read books you’ll have based on Hornby’s lists.