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More Baths Less Talking? Yes, please.

A few suggestions for anyone thinking of reading Nick Hornby’s More Baths Less Talking: clear out some shelf space and warn your significant others.  Not that Hornby’s book is a mammoth door-stopper that will force you to ignore your family for long stretches of time.  Quite the contrary.  It’s only 135 pages long and takes about three hours to read.  But those scant pages are so stuffed with tantalizing book suggestions and a contagious love of the reading experience that your to-read list can’t help but grow to elephantine proportions.  You may, after reading this, check out so many books and leave them in scattered piles around the house that you might just, ahem, annoy your significant other to the point at which she sighs whenever she spots you reading it.  Fair warning and all.

More Baths Less Talking is a collection of Hornby’s columns for The Believer, a literary rag whose arrival every month is much anticipated in my household, if only by me.  You may have heard Hornby’s name in connection to his books, none of which I’ve read, or the excellent film adaptation of his novel High Fidelity, which I’ve watched 3,000 times, roughly.  Each month he lists the books he’s bought and the books he’s read, and rarely do the two lists coincide.  Hornby buys a lot of books.  And he reads a lot of books. Which is good for us, because he wants to tell us how fantastic those books might be, and at least someone is keeping the publishing industry afloat.

You might expect a column devoted to the written word, written by an Englishman and published in a literary magazine, to be chock full of thinly veiled cultural snobbery.  I know I did.  But if anything, Hornby’s approach is the antithesis.  Biographies of Montaigne and Dickens, the short novels of Muriel Spark, soccer (which evidently they refer to as “football” over there), Friday Night Lights (the book and television show), and a children’s series involving a character named Mr. Gum are all warmed under Hornby’s gaze, and the reader is imbued with hope and optimism for the future of darn near everything.  At least this reader was.  Hornby’s writing is humble, generous, funny, wise, and manages to maintain a sarcastic veneer while being full of, for lack of a better word, heart.  If you can remain unmoved while Hornby spins the tale of trying to read Dickens with his autistic son on the front porch, then you, my friend, are a statue.

The one catch to all this is that Hornby is awfully convincing about a book when he wants to be. How convincing, you might ask?  Let’s just say I almost checked out David Kynaston’s Austerity Britain, 1945-1951, an intricately researched, nearly 700 page behemoth on the social conditions of that era in British history, a topic in which I am not even the slightest bit interested.  I abstained in the name of marital harmony and the structural integrity of my nightstand, but I’m telling you, I was this close.  That’s how good Hornby is.

Like his previous collection of columns, The Polysyllabic SpreeMore Baths Less Talking is such a solid argument for the literary life that once I closed the book I made a few decisions.  Less Facebook, less random internet surfing, less television, more books.  Sounds good, right?  And it’s not even New Year’s!  I will also lose 10 pounds and finally finish that Rubik’s cube.

Anyway, despite having never met the man, I consider Hornby to be my reading sensei.  Or maybe a really cool literary guidance counselor.  Either way, I’ll always be grateful to him for practically forcing me to read Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, one of those lyrical, magical reading experiences that forever ruin other books because they just can’t be Housekeeping. It’s not all wine and roses in our one-way love affair, however. Hornby’s response when finished reading  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?  “Meh.”  What?!?  Say it ain’t so, Nick!  (You can’t see me right now, but I’m shaking my fist at the sky.)  That one’s a heartbreaker.  Oh well, even literary senseis are allowed to be wrong once in awhile.