Nov 24, 2008

31 Songs by Nick Hornby

It’s official: I love Nick Hornby. (Well, it was official before, but nevermind). 31 Songs, as you may have gathered from the title, is a collection of 31 short essays by Nick Hornby about songs that are meaningful to him for some reason or other. And as a bonus at the end we also get a few essays on albums he likes and a list of some of his favourite recent songs (well, recent in 2003, of course.)

Before I started this book, I thought my favourite essays would be the ones about songs I also know and love. That tends to be the case when I read books about books, at least. So I expected to prefer to read about Rufus Wainwright, Aimee Mann, Nick Cave, Badly Drawn Boy or Bob Dylan to, say, Santana, Suicide, The Velvelettes or Gregory Isaacs.

But no. That wasn’t the case at all. Because, see, this is Nick Hornby writing about these songs, which means that every single essay was funny, wise, unpretentious, touching and insightful in one way or another. In fact, this book made me decide to also read Fever Pitch, his book about football. I’m not a big sports fan, but if Nick Hornby is writing about football, then you bet I want to read it. I’m sure he’ll have interesting things to say about it.

Anyway. What makes these essays great isn’t just how well he writes about music and the things music makes us feel. (Though for me that’s very admirable in itself. I’m as passionate about music as I am about books, but I could never keep a music journal simply because I’m hopeless at writing about it.) What Nick Hornby does is write about the songs themselves, about other songs they might remind him of, about music in general and how some of it is still Frowned Upon, about snobbery, small independent stores, and his life. This isn’t, however, done in a straightforward way. He doesn’t go on a tangent about what a song reminds him of. As he puts it:
If you love a song, love it enough for it to accompany you throughout the different stages of your life, then any specific memory is rubbed away by use. If I’d heard ‘Thunder Road’ in some girl’s bedroom in 1975, decided it was OK, and had never seen the girl or listened to the song again, then hearing it now would probably bring back the smell or her underarm deodorant. But that isn’t what happened; what happened was that I heard ‘Thunder Road’ and loved it, and I’ve listened to it at (alarmingly) frequent intervals ever since. ‘Thunder Road’ really only reminds me of itself, and, I suppose, of my life since I was eighteen – that is to say, of nothing much and too much.
So more than about specific moments of his life, what he writes about along with writing about the songs is, well, life in general. There’s no other way I can put it, really. My very favourite essay was the one about “Puff the Magic Dragon” by Gregory Isaacs, where he talks about Danny, his autistic son, and his relationship with music. I don’t even want to say anything about it because I don’t want to cheapen it somehow, you know? So I’ll just say that the book is more than worth reading for that essay alone.

You can read the essay about "A Minor Incident" by Badly Drawn Boy (another one of my favourites) here. He also mentions his son, and he talks about writing About a Boy and seeing it turned into a movie (the song is in the movie's soundtrack). It's a great essay.

If you like music, if you like Nick Hornby, if you like funny and open personal essays and books that make you laugh and cry, then you must read 31 Songs. And now I shall go away and devote some time to my new Project: acquiring and reading everything Nick Hornby has ever written.

(Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll link to your review at the bottom of this post.)


  1. Thanks Nymeth. I have not personally read any of Nick Hornby's books, but I am a music passionate and will bump this on my MUST BE READ immediatley... great review!!!

  2. This actually looks really interesting! I'll have to give it a closer look. Thanks for the cool review!


  3. I just picked up a copy of Fever Pitch at a used book store yesterday and I can't wait to read it - I love Nick Hornby. :)

  4. Nymeth dear, you know that I thank you for so many interesting books but you and I really tend NOT to read the same stuff, would you agree? But I REALLY want this! Thank you. and thanks for all you do with the secret Santa stuff, too. I'm wrapping gifts right after I hit POST this COMMENT...

  5. This sounds like a special read to me, Nymeth, since I've never read anything on music or essays! If I'm not wrong, I think Rhinoa enjoys his books too. I haven't read his books yet but I'll have to give it a try.

  6. It sounds great! I've only read his essays about literature, but this sounds wonderful as well.

  7. Thanks for the review, Nymeth! I have only one of Hornby's books in my collection and that is A LONG WAY DOWN. I have yet to read it even though it's been in the TBR for a year...

  8. Well I'm just going to have to read this one, aren't I? ;) I've only read one Nick Hornby book, but I think I have more by him on my TBR list than any other author. I just got Slam not too long ago and I'm dying to get The Polysyllabic Spree! That one still remains at the top of my list!

  9. -->If you like music, if you like Nick Hornby, if you like funny and open personal essays and books that make you laugh and cry, then you must read 31 Songs.

    I haven't read Nick Hornby in awhile but I can see why I'll enjoy this one to bits.

  10. I didn't know about this one of his, thanks. Apparently Fever Pitch is about so much more than just football, I decided too read it too. Although I haven't done it yet, go figure. ;-)

  11. I saw a huge shelf of Nick Hornby books at the bookstore last weekend. Although I had heard a lot about him I had never read an actual review of any of his books. Thanks for this one. I'll look more closely into his shelf next time :)

  12. You know, before reading your review, I would have said that no way is this book for me. I would have thought, "Well, I probably don't know many of these songs he's talking about, so it just won't connect for me." Sounds like I couldn't have been more mistaken! It sounds positively wonderful! Thanks, Nymeth!

  13. I think this is the only Nick Hornby book I haven't read yet. No idea why I haven't, but will try my best to read it soon. I love his writing and passion for music.

  14. Hi Ana, haven't been blogging much lately, reading helps me de-stress (is this a word???). I have never been able to get into Nick Hornby, maybe it was my mood, it seems I am missing a good writer. I have so many books to read on library schedule have to hurry up and read them, who knows when they will be available again.
    I am not sure they celebrate Thanksgving in Portugal, so many countries adopt American holidays now. Anyway it is about being thankful and I am thankful for all my friends which nclude you Ana :}

  15. Michellekae, hope you enjoy it :)

    Lezlie, you're welcome!

    Jessi: Me too! I look forward to your thoughts on it.

    Care: That's true, yes, but that's one of the reasons why I enjoy reading you so much! You expose me to different things. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this book! And yay for wrapping gifts! I'm sure your blogger will be delighted :)

    Melody: Yes, she's a big fan as well :) I think you'd enjoy his novels, Melody!

    Jeane: Those were great, weren't they? And here he approaches music with the same kind of attitude. Passionate, honest and completely unpretentious.

    Alice: I haven't read that one yet, but hey, it's Nick Hornby so I'm sure it will be good!

    Chris: Yes! You'll love this one for sure. And the Spree too! I need to get my hands on Slam.

    Lightheaded: I think you will :)

    Joanna: Considering that it's Nick Hornby, I'm not surprised to hear it's about much more than just football. This one was about more than just music too :)

    Violetcrush: Yes, do give it a closer look!

    Debi: I honestly didn't know more than half the songs he was writing about, but that didn't keep me from enjoying it one bit. The way he writes makes everything worth reading!

    Rhinoa: So do I. You'll love this for sure!

    Madeleine: We don't celebrate Thanksgiving, no, but thank you for your kind wishes anyway :) Speaking of holidays, I have something for you which will be on its way by the end of the week! So look for it soon.

  16. I havent read Nick Hornby.
    Great review! This sounds very good. I need to pick this author's work up sometime.
    I like this: 'If you love a song, love it enough for it to accompany you throughout the different stages of your life'
    its very true.

    thats a great personal project, reading everything this author has written :)

  17. I absolutely loved High Fidelity, which had alot of musical references in it, so I will surely check out this one.
    Thanks for the awesome review :)

  18. I'll only read Hornby's non-fic, because I'm terrified his fiction won't be as good. (isn't that silly?) This collection sounds so awesome!!

  19. Naida: It's very true indeed! And fortunately (or UNfortunately), he still hasn't written all that many books and I have a bit of a head start, so it won't be too hard.

    Joanne: I loved that about High Fidelity too :)

    Eva: I don't think it is! I loved the novels I've read so far, but I think my favourite thing of his is the Polysyllabic Spree. And now that I've read that and 31 Songs, I've afraid that when I pick up a novel next I won't enjoy it as much because it won't be him in quite the same sense. Does this even make sense? :P

  20. The first book I read by Nick Hornby was The Polysyllabic Spree, his fabulous ode to the love of books. I really like how honest and funny, and yet scathing he can be. Since then, I have read and loved High Fidelity, but none of his other fiction really appeals to me. 31 Songs sounds right up my alley though. Great review, thanks!

  21. Must Read More Hornsby. I have About a Boy (loved the movie) and A Long Way Down on the shelf, but I've seen so many other great reviews, including The Polysyllabic Spree lately that I feel like I need to pick up more. I loved his music rambling in High Fidelity, so this sounds really great!

  22. You've got to love Hornby! Now I just need to read more by him...

  23. I keep adding books by Hornby to my list because of your reviews. Clearly I need to get started reading some of them! I love when I discover a writer I'm willing to follow anywhere, regardless of what they're writing about. Sounds like he's that way for you!

  24. Hi!
    I stumbled on your blog looking for all things Nick Hornby, and gosh, you like most of the things I like! I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you like Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchet, Philip Pullman as well as the other authors in this genre. Oh, and you read Questionable Content too!

    You should check out Madeleine L'Engle's works (if you haven't yet). They're pretty awesome too.

  25. happyhya: Hi :D As a fellow Nick Hornby and Philip Pullman fan, you are hereby convoked to help me with my basement entrapment plan to get him to read His Dark Materials :P

    (I just hope he doesn't self-google, or else I'm so going to creep him out...JUST KIDDING, NICK.)

    I've read A Wrinkle in Time by L'Engle and I enjoyed it a lot. I've been meaning to get to the rest of the series. Thanks for the recommendation!

    (And Trish, Bookchronicle, Darla...if you ever see this, sorry that I never got around to replying)


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.