The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

For all those compulsive book-buyers, book-readers, bibliophiles, for all those people with long lists of books that they want to read: Nick Hornby has summed up your life! This book is a collection of columns that Hornby wrote for the magazine The Believer about reading – specifically his reading: what books he had read that month and what books he had bought (and usually had intended to read) and the discrepancies between the two lists. If you are, like me, a compulsive book buyer and obsessive book reader then these two lists and the fact that they often don’t overlap that much will be familiar to you. This in essence is why I feel like Nick Hornby has captured something essential about my life in the pages of his book – his obsessions are my obsessions; his behaviour is my behaviour. When he talks about a book he is considering buying: “I ached to buy it – or rather, I ached to be the kind of person who would buy it, read it, and learn something from it.” That is me – all the time! When he talks about buying a book and then putting it straight on a bookshelf never to be read – without even the pretence of leaving it for a while in a pile by the bed – I remember (guiltily) the number of times I’ve done this myself. As he says – I always intend to read them, but just not right now, and however good my intentions I may never read them.

I didn’t just sympathise and identify with everything in The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, I also learnt a lot. I learnt about writing – Hornby has a beautifully informal, direct and yet somehow lyrical way of writing about the ordinary events that make up our reading lives. I also learnt about reading – about the joys, tragedies and triumphs of reading, not to mention how much of ourselves we put into (or read into – forgive the pun) our reading and purchasing choices. Beyond that, and in some sense most importantly for readers – I found a number of books that Hornby read (or attempted to read) that I must now go off and buy, so if you’ll excuse me…


~ by Doug Newdick on March 21, 2008.

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