Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity and my favorite Songbook, enjoys the occasional blog and keeps one of his own. This week he’s written about the table of book recommendations that he gets to populate for the ubiquitous British bookstore Waterstone’s throughout the month of March. Nick explains:
It can happen anywhere: a dinner table, a pub, a bus queue, a classroom, a bookshop. You have struck up a conversation with someone you don’t know, and you’re getting on OK, and then suddenly, without warning, you hear the five words that mean the relationship has no future beyond the time it takes to say them: “I think you’ll like it.” This phrase is presumptuous enough when used to refer to, say, a crisp flavour; if, however, you happen to be talking about books or films or music, then it is completely unforgivable, a social solecism on a par with bottom-pinching. You think I’ll like it, do you? Well, it has taken me over fifty years to get anywhere near an understanding of what I think I might like, and even then I get it wrong half the time, so what chance have you got? Every now and again I meet someone who is able to make shrewd and thoughtful recommendations within the first five years of our acquaintance, but for the most part, the people I listen to I’ve known for a couple of decades, a good chunk of which has been spent talking about the things we love and hate.
We are asked to believe, usually by critics, that the most important factor in our response to a book should be its objective quality – a good book is a good book – but we know that’s not true. Mood and taste are important, self-evidently, but mood and taste are formed by educational background, profession, health, amount of leisure time, marital status, state of marriage, gender (men don’t read much fiction, depressingly), age, age of children, relationships with children, and parents, and siblings, and, possibly, an unfortunate experience with Thomas Pynchon’s ‘V’ as an overambitious and pretentious teenager. All of these and thousands of others are governing factors, and many of them are wildly inconstant.
As it happens, I have been asked to choose forty-odd books for a writer’s table at Waterstone’s, and I think you’ll like them.
With so many varied recommendations, I suppose I will like several of them. At least I look forward to the prospect of giving it a go; I’ve read woefully few of these selections but my nightstand can always use a few more books stacked atop it, longingly imploring me to get off the damn computer and pick one of them up already. I do so love to read. Today the weather outside has dipped back down into the 30s, as if to remind me that it ain’t quite Spring yet. Colder weather means a good day for this massive new fuzzy blanket I bought, a couch, and a good book.
[header image actually belongs with this totally unrelated book]