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Stuff I've Been Reading #2

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt

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In this latest collection of essays following The Polysyllabic Spree, critic and author Nick Hornby continues the feverish survey of his swollen bookshelves, offering a funny, intelligent, and unblinkered account of the stuff he's been reading. Ranging from the middlebrow to the highbrow (with unrepenting dips into the lowbrow), Hornby's dispatches from his nightstand table serve as useful guides to contemporary letters, with revelations on contemporary culture, the intellectual scene, and English football, in equal measure.

153 pages, Paperback

First published September 10, 2006

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About the author

Nick Hornby

97 books9,303 followers
Nick Hornby is the author of the novels A Long Way Down, Slam, How to Be Good, High Fidelity, and About a Boy, and the memoir Fever Pitch. He is also the author of Songbook, a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, Shakespeare Wrote for Money, and The Polysyllabic Spree, as well as the editor of the short-story collection Speaking with the Angel. He is a recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ E. M. Forster Award and the winner of the 2003 Orange Word International Writers’ London Award. Among his many other honors and awards, four of his titles have been named New York Times Notable Books. A film written by Hornby, An Education – shown at the Sundance Film Festival to great acclaim – was the lead movie at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival and distributed by Sony that fall. That same September, the author published his latest novel, Juliet, Naked to wide acclaim. Hornby lives in North London.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 317 reviews
Profile Image for Sue.
1,271 reviews548 followers
November 7, 2012
Hornby keeps me on my toes! So many books to consider--14 books on a piece of paper for me to think about, none of which are currently on my tbr. And quotable lines---dozens of them. Which to choose? Oh my, this is and was difficult. A few have already been selected and used in my updates.

p 115 "Almost nobody writes their own books these days; indeed to do so is seen as a mark of failure in literary circles. Of course, the young have no choice, and there are, apparently, a few renegades who insist on churning out word after word....I have always used an old lady named Violet, who lives in a cottage in Cornwall, in the far west of England, and who is an absolute treasure. She's getting better too."

Oh Nick, what's not to like! You have literary knowledge, attitude to spare, wit and charm, especially when you discover an author or book you truly love. I have a few more lines marked but I should save those lest I spoil the fun for you who have yet to read this.

I will definitely continue this series, read them all, both for the reading list and for the wit.

Maybe a 4.5 but bumped to 5 for the smiles and chuckles provided.
47 reviews10 followers
January 7, 2008
I can't even begin to say how much I liked this book. Almost enough to subscribe to the Believer, at least, if only for Hornby's essays. At the risk of offending lots of critics, his essays do something that so few book reviews ever do: entertain the reader on their own merits, and and AND, so much more importantly, actually inspire you to WANT to read the books he talks about. A uniquely witty and "literary" (I mean that in the good, intelligent way) reader who actually has, like, normal interests outside of reading. I know, crazy right?
Profile Image for Richard.
1,147 reviews1,041 followers
December 22, 2013
Notes for review: there are few things more dangerous to a reader than an entertaining book about what a clever person has read. A few decades ago we were all reading Helene H.'s "84 Charing Cross Road". Just recently I have been strongly tempted by Prof. Flynn's book he wrote to his students (in fact, I'm buying two classics just based on the sample chapter I found on his website, and I almost never actually buy books).

Hornby's essays here are explicitly crafted to wreak mayhem on one's reading list. Bad man!

Five stars, but don't go thinking this is a life-changing opus. (Or even life-ruining, despite what Hornby might desire.) These are bite-sized essays that will leave you smiling, looking forward to more, and inspired to read read read, which to us is like telling an addict that the heroin is on the house. What it promises, it delivers.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,802 reviews1,235 followers
June 24, 2008
As with his The Polysyllabic Spree, the first collection of these columns, Hornby is funny and informative. Perhaps too informative as reading about these books is dangerous if one doesn’t want one’s to-read list to get too much longer. Each essay covers one month of books Hornby bought and books Hornby read.

The structure continues to be inspired but I didn’t enjoy this collection as much as the last one because he goes off in tangents and talks somewhat less about books and because, if my memory serves, his bought books and read books lists were, for the most part, shorter.

Also, he seemed less engaged in the process and I don’t think it was his humor (sometimes somewhat crass but in a forgivable British manner) but I think he really didn’t put quite as much into the essays. That said, what was there was interesting and enjoyable.

I don’t really appreciate the included long excerpts from a selection of the books he writes about because I don’t tend to enjoy reading long passages from books before I read the books. (I did read all of them because I am compulsive about wanting to read every word of every book that I read.)
Profile Image for R.
384 reviews
April 4, 2017
A great palette cleanser after too much fiction about damaged people. And I only added one book to my TBR list! (so far)
An entertaining read about Nick Hornby's reading life from his columns for the Believer. Many wonderful quotes as mentioned in other reviews of this book.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
934 reviews2 followers
January 6, 2023
Nick Hornby geht der Frage auf den Grund "Was stellt für jemanden, der berufstätig ist, Kinder hat und auch noch fernsieht ein normales Lesepensum dar?" und beantwortet die Frage auf 139 Seiten gleich selbst. Er erzählt von Büchern, die er gekauft und die er gelesen hat. Vieles wurde ihm von Freunden empfohlen, einiges wurde ihm zur Rezension gegeben und auf manches Buch ist er eher durch Zufall gestoßen. Eines haben alle diese Bücher aber gemeinsam: sie haben ihn auf die eine oder andere Weise berührt, wie alle Bücher, die wir lesen oder besitzen, uns berühren.

Das Buch hat mir großen Spaß gemacht. Nick Hornby schreibt mit einer Begeisterung über "seine" Bücher, wie ich sie selten erlebt habe. Das Buch hat mir noch mehr Lust aufs Lesen gemacht als ich ohnehin schon habe. Leider habe ich nur wenige der Bücher, von denen er berichtet, gelesen. Eines davon ist "Exzession" von Iain M. Banks. Es hat mich fast ein bisschen beruhigt, dass er damit ähnliche Probleme hatte wie ich. Allerdings habe ich durchgehalten während Hornby abgebrochen hat. Sein Kommentar dazu "Verdammter Iain M. Banks- er hat mein Selbstvertrauen zerstört!" Das kann ich gut verstehen, denn einige seiner Bücher sind auch für mich als erklärten Banks-Fan schwer zu verstehen. Aber vielleicht sollte ich vor einem re-Read von Exzession erst monatelang Slayer hören. Offensichtlich sind Fans von Heavy Metal die eigentliche Zielgruppe für diese Bücher. Es beruhigt mich, dass auch Hornby nicht davor gefeit ist, Bücher doppelt zu kaufen. Damit bin ich also in guter Gesellschaft. Ein echtes Lesehighlight.
Profile Image for Andrew Kubasek.
265 reviews15 followers
April 10, 2008
I can't claim that this book was great, by any means. It was witty and informative and entertaining, though, and that's just what I was looking for when I decided to read it.

For those not familiar: "Housekeeping..." is a sort of sequel to Hornby's earlier work "The Polysyllabic Spree." Both of these books were originally published in monthly segments in "The Believer."

The premise of these pieces is to track the contant readers' dilemma: which books do I buy and which books do I read? Each chapter represents a month and begins with two lists - "Books Bought" and "Books Read." Each segment then tells the story as to why he bought and read what he did.

The segments aren't exactly essays. Nor are they really book reviews. Nor are they random ramblings. Simply put, they track his literary life as a reader.

You'd think that this premise would wear thin over the course of two books. But Hornby keeps things fresh and interesting with his fast, colloquial language and pseudo-intellectual interests.

Still - don't read this book without first checking out "The Polysyllabic Spree." It's not necessary, but it helps to know where he started.
91 reviews
April 17, 2019
A collection of columns from The Believer. Each essay has two book lists, what he’s bought during the month and what he’s read. Most months there is only a small overlap, which I can identify with as someone who buys more books than she can read.

He writes with intelligence and humor and I now have a new TBR list. Very satisfying.
2,451 reviews
May 23, 2017
Fourteen months of the author's essays on what books he bought and what books he read.

Good thing: The bit about "The Dirt" by Motley Crue actually made me snort/laugh. And no, I did not look for a magnifying glass.

Bad thing: Nick Hornby and I apparently have almost exact opposites in reading tastes so this isn't a book that helps me locate other books I want to read. But that's ok!

The author apparently never reads fantasy/science fiction and, on the basis of a recommendation from a friend, tries to dip a toe in those waters by picking up an Ian M. Banks' Culture book. And gives up several pages in. Science fiction lovers: when you have someone who does not read SF who is trying it for the first time, do not choose this type of hard science fiction for their first book - ease them in! We want more SF readers.
Profile Image for Scout.
220 reviews40 followers
January 7, 2013
This compilation of Hornby's book reviews was a pleasure to read, and the books that appeal to me are now on my library list.

Here's a short quote: "There comes a point in life, it seems to me, where you have to decide whether you're a Person of Letters or merely someone who loves books, and I'm beginning to see that the book lovers have more fun. Persons of Letters have to read things like Candide or they're a few letters short of the whole alphabet; book lovers, meanwhile, can read whatever they fancy."

Amen to that. I'm definitely a book lover.
Profile Image for Scott.
1,797 reviews129 followers
September 11, 2017
Damn it, Nick Hornby - just when I think I have my 'to read' list under control you give me even more suggestions. (I'm looking at - or is it for? - you Citizen Vince by Jess Walter, and Moondust by Andrew Smith.) Now that the ranting is done it can be said this is another solid collection of amusing and occasionally insightful essays.
Profile Image for britt_brooke.
1,327 reviews97 followers
July 13, 2019
Not quite as enjoyable as the first collection, but still a good read. I loved when Hornby bought and/or read books that I love such as Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (Flynn) and A Man Without a Country (Vonnegut). Y’all should read those, btw. 😉 PS. I think I’ll steer clear of the Motley Crüe biography.
50 reviews
May 30, 2018
A well-written, enjoyable diary of what Nick Hornby read for about 18 months, with excerpts from some of his favorite books ... and now I have three more books on my to-read list, haha. As well as his other books in this series, including "Shakespeare Wrote for Money." (Each chapter originally appeared as a column in a monthly British literary magazine.)

P.S. Not surprisingly, each of the three books Mr Hornby has inspired me to read have an (American) Civil War connection. Stay tuned ...
Profile Image for Ireniam.
565 reviews
August 12, 2020
Esta es una colección de ensayos, donde el autor habla sobre sus lecturas en un periodo de 14 meses.

El autor tiene un buen sentido del humor, algunas de sus frases me sacaron una que otra carcajada. No se que mas decir de este libro, si eres fan de Nick Hornby es posible que te guste.
Profile Image for Maria.
20 reviews
September 15, 2018
Mildly amusing. I think I just need to admit that Hornby doesn’t do much more than that for me, but for some reason I keep reading his books.
Profile Image for Adam.
296 reviews5 followers
October 8, 2015
Glancing at other reviews of this on Goodreads, I may be the only reader who didn’t care for this book.

This is Nick Hornby’s collection of his column for The Believer magazine in which he compares the list of books he’s bought with the list of books he’s actually read. That exercise is fun, and I’ve compared those two lists of my own for entertainment (who would’ve thought I’d leave Patti Smith’s memoir on my shelf for so long before reading it? And who would’ve guessed that I would have devoured a biography of Henry Kissinger immediately upon someone handing it to me?).

Hornby thinks his “bought” list tends to be higher brow, and his “read” list tends to be lower brow. He’s a reading enthusiast, and the contrast between the list serves to encourage people to not get hung up on being too “literary” and embracing the idea of reading books, no matter the perceived altitude of their brow. It’s great to encourage people to read books, and at first glance, who doesn’t like a populist stance against artistic snobs? But after reading through his columns I felt a little impatient and thirsty for some more substance.

He writes, “I am not particularly interested in language. Or rather, I am interested in what language can do for me, and I spend many hours each day trying to ensure that my prose is as simple as it can possibly be. But I do not wish to produce prose that draws attention to itself, rather than the world it describes, and I certainly don’t have the patience to read it.” More than anything, his guide for reading is to avoid the boring: “To put it crudely, I get bored, and when I get bored I tend to get tetchy. It has proved surprisingly easy to eliminate boredom from my reading life. And boredom, let’s face it, is a problem that many of us have come to associate with books” (14).

I’m all for not reading boring books (Like Hornby, I, too, will avoid many of the old classics for this reason), but he’s not just opposing boring, “important” books. He also takes a posture against books that have more ambition. He writes that he categorically is against reading contemporary literary fiction.

I’m having a hard time putting my finger on what irritates me about this. Perhaps the problem here is that there is a distinction between “challenging” books that make you work hard, and perhaps move more slowly, and just plain boring books.

For me, one promise of more “literary” books is that they may more deeply inspire and educate. I’m reminded of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ interview in the Guardian:

[James] Baldwin understood that if you are going to say something important about the world it is best if you try to say it beautifully. I don’t mean like picking flowers or writing on fancy stationery. I mean how you say it actually makes it a more meaningful piece of writing. I am going to push that further. It makes it a truer piece of writing. What you are saying is: ‘Can I make somebody feel this in a deeper way?’”

Coates, reflecting on Baldwin and other beautiful writers, continues: “…I would think about that shit for days. Those phrases stayed with me in my head…”

Do we not, as plain-old, unpretentious readers, want to combat boredom with the sticky phrases Coates describes, the same way a catchy pop hook repeats in our head? It seems that by throwing out critically acclaimed prose, Hornby risks narrowing and diminishing our potential enjoyment of literature.

Hornby is clear that he believes that there is value in pleasure reading. I’d add that there’s great value in deep reading, too. And further, that one needn’t be an art snob to read deeply. Ultimately, with my scarce time, I don’t want to just be inspired—I want to be inspired deeply.
Profile Image for John.
72 reviews7 followers
February 17, 2013
I ran across this at a library. It was on display and it basically jumped into my hands. Just like that. I didn’t even know I was looking for it. Thus is the power of libraries. Housekeeping vs. The Dirt is a delightfully engaging collection of Hornby’s book reviews for the Believer magazine which is run by a gaggle of overbearing editors Hornby calls the Polysyllabic Spree. Hornby’s angle for these reviews is unassuming and certainly not time sensitive which bodes well for me as I picked up this collection a good eight years after publication.

Hornby’s collection is “writing about reading, as opposed to writing about individual books.” This allows Hornby to engage the reader on a level closer to firm ground. He’s done the ‘book review’ gig before, now he wants us to join him in reading adventures, and he offers up books that he “wants to read.”

Each month Hornby presents two lists: books bought; books read. It’s a lovely way to go about it because that’s usually the way we go about it. We discover books, buy them, or check them out of libraries, put them on the pile and dive in, or we get sidelined. Inevitably our bought pile grows quicker than our read pile. And just like us, Hornby isn’t just buying front list “must reads of the day” but also tossing in recommendations from friends and books that fall off the shelves.

We’re offered up choice volumes from the latest Ian McEwan (for 2005) to C. K. Chesterton. What we get is how story and the reading experience are interconnected. We can see how a play by Michael Frayn relates to Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn. Hornby is adept at the book reviewer waltz but he’d rather rock with the rest of us in the mosh pit for this collection. And we get a wide swath of offerings.

I like a book that cuts across from Marilynn Robinson’s sublimely powerful Housekeeping which Hornby calls “a mystical work about the dead and how they haunt the living; if books can work as music then Housekeeping served as the soundtrack to the footage from New Orleans” while at the same time skewering the volumes of Philip Larkin’s letters which reminds you “forcibly that the ability to write fiction or poetry is not necessarily indicative of a particular refined intelligence, no matter what we’d like to believe; it’s a freakish talent.”

We also get to discover books we’d usually not bump into such as Jess Walter’s earlier books Citizen Vince and Over Tumbled Graves and we see why maybe it’s not such a good idea to re-release restored classics like Warren’s All the King’s Men. And anytime you get a paragraph that ties together a great poet’s letters and insipid pop tunes is time well spent. There’s a great riff by Hornby about buying a book from an Amazon penny seller and the implications of the seller and the author about said price. As Hornby strays afield we gladly tag along because he’s as funny as he is sharp. Ostensibly we enter book review collections to discover new books or authors and Hornby doesn’t disappoint and we get so much more than expected.
96 reviews1 follower
September 10, 2009
This is going to be a joint review of all three of Nick Hornby's collections of Believer columns.

First off, I need to say I'm deeply relieved that Nick Hornby can write nonfiction, and that's it's just Fever Pitch that is miserable. I was a little worried.

Secondly, you should not read these books if you do not want your list of books to read to grow significantly. While is is part of the Believer's schtick that reviews must be positive (the books he doesn't like must only be referred to anonymously), his enthusiasm for the books he writes about is infectious.

It's also nice to see the reviews written in a context of the books being read. He doesn't go into great detail of plot, characters, or themes. He just talks about things he liked in the book, to the degree of depth he needs to get his point across, and moves on. He also talks about himself and the experience of reading the book.

He also lists the books he bought at the start of each column, not all of which get read. It's reassuring to see the dashed intentions of wanting to give the books your love, but just not having enough time or devotion.

I read this book first, accidentally out of order. I read it over a couple commutes, while I read the other two in a day each, while I traveled to and from Cleveland. The first two books (Polysyllabic Spree and this one) have excerpts from a few of his favorite books, and the last one (Shakespeare Wrote for Money) has an introduction by Sarah Vowell. It's not enough to warrant a purchase if you were a devoted Believer reader, but is a nice touch.

He's stopped doing the column, but I suppose I've been given enough book suggestions to fill a few years now.
Profile Image for Melissa.
673 reviews155 followers
December 4, 2012
Hornby’s column may have switched magazines since the collection published in The Polysyllabic Spree, but it retained its acid wit. This edition contains 14 monthly columns published in The Believer, chronicling the author’s book purchases and what he’s read.

Along the way I found a couple books I want to read, but mainly I just enjoyed his writing. I love the sections where he talks about wanting reading to be a joy, not a chore. He gives such a refreshingly honest look at reading. He reads what he wants. He knows he isn’t always reading the “best” books, but he’d rather read something he enjoys.

I think I tend to read books I think I “should” read, but I also balance that with books I want to read. I’ve also found that I often end up loving the “should read” books more than the others. I think the important thing is just to keep reading no matter what.

BOTTOM LINE: Start with The Polysyllabic Spree and enjoy Hornby’s snarky observations.

"If I felt that mood, morale, concentration levels, weather, or family history had affected my relationship with a book, I could and would say so."

"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."

"One of the problem, 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."
Profile Image for Kasey Jueds.
Author 4 books62 followers
September 14, 2010
I love Nick Hornby so much I get all tongue-tied trying to explain why, and end up just enthusing in what's probably kind of an embarrassing way. This books of essays is just as smart and funny and wonderful as The Polysyllabic Spree, both of which are collections of Hornby's reviews from "The Believer" magazine. Aside from being a great read in and of themselves, the essays have also given me some amazing recommendations for further reading, including books I'd never have heard of otherwise; Julie Orringer's How To Breathe Underwater is an excellent example. Another wonderful thing about this particular book (Hornby's, not Orringer's): the amazing introductory essay, which is all about reading and pleasure. Which seems kind of obvious, because isn't that what reading is all about? Except that I tend to forget that, and sometimes try to force myself to read things that are Good For Me. Which can be a good thing, sometimes, but Nick Hornby reminded me that we should really be getting joy out of 99% of our reading material. Otherwise, what's the point?
Profile Image for Kat.
300 reviews28 followers
February 12, 2017
Hornby is witty, hilarious, brilliant. He has my sense of humour and shares my views towards books and book industry. What more to want?
Profile Image for Jenny.
1,808 reviews39 followers
June 2, 2016
I think Nick Hornby is the best. I love his constant jabs at the "Spree," the x number of robed overseers of the Believer magazine. I even love it when he reviews books I haven't read, which is the case for the most part in this book (with some exceptions, notably Assassination Vacation, which I loved when I read it years ago). The "chapters" are basically entries from different months, so it's easy digesting. I like how he puts things about reading, too - that reading something too fast doesn't allow it to "stick" but some books are all "sludge" and take far too long. He also mentioned his memories of reading in church to make the service go by faster, which I also did when I was a little kid - it helped me focus on the readings.
Profile Image for Leah.
408 reviews
October 9, 2012
Do you know the joy of Book Lust? Do you know its cousin Lit Crush? Booklust is deep, visceral, indescribable joy directed at the object of said lust. Litcrush is, obviously, a crush--it is fun, lighthearted, and makes you wriggle like an excited child mostly because having a crush is delightful.

I feel like I spent these first two weeks of school carefully planning my route to class in order to run into Nick Hornby and have a reading conversation with him. We are such a pair! He is sooooo wonderful and he talked right to me! Whatever, widely published book of essays/reviews/conversations, it was definitely right to me. Oh, frabjous day! Calloo, callay!
Profile Image for Ellie.
128 reviews6 followers
August 15, 2012
I love Nick Hornby for his bold assertion that people should be reading what will give them pleasure, not what they think they should read, in order to inflate their intelligence. Life is short, and so few people read for pleasure any more. So what's the point of reading something that feels like a chore? Give it up! This book is a collection of articles published in the Believer Magazine; he lists what books he has purchased and discusses books he has read. I really enjoy his unique voice and humor!
Profile Image for Laura.
416 reviews22 followers
December 27, 2012
I picked this up for two key reasons: a) I just bought the latest collection, More Baths and Less Talking, and wanted to get to it but hadn't read any of the others except the first, and my sense of chronology demanded senselessly that I go through them in order; and b) I wanted to get to 100 books read this year and this book would very quickly add another in the 'done' column. For some reason I didn’t really dig this one as much as his first, although there were plenty of good columns here. More books that I’ve actually read than usual. And the preface is great.
Profile Image for Rachel.
321 reviews111 followers
March 8, 2007
I enjoyed reading his pieces in book form rather than in magazine form. Not sure why. But now I have a whole hell of a lot more books to add to my to-read pile. I like how he approaches book criticism. Most times I get the sense that the writer was paid or not paid enough to read a book and then write about it. But it was cool to get a more realistic look at books, or at least I feel a unique and interesting one, written with style and humor.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
1,005 reviews374 followers
March 25, 2013
A wry book about reading books – most of which I did not know and most of which were novels. “Five Days in London” by John Lukacs, which is not a novel, is reviewed.
There are some good laugh-loud jokes, but some just fall flat.

Yet the author tries and is obviously addicted to books and the love of reading. The best part (and funny) was about the Amazon review in September 2005. I also appreciated that the author is not a ‘reading snob’ type!
Profile Image for Tiffany.
969 reviews89 followers
November 1, 2022
Just what I need: a book about other books, and a book that will lead me to other books to read. My bookshelves can't handle it!!!

Not only is this a book which suggests more books, but I also love Nick Hornby's style. He's so poetic, and his writing is beautiful and brilliant. Ah, I wish I could write like he does.

A Christmas present from my wonderful friend Christine ;)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 317 reviews

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