Stuff I've Been Reading by Nick Hornby

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Stuff I've Been Reading by Nick Hornby

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Category: Anthologies
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw
Reviewed by Chris Bradshaw
Summary: Needing reading inspiration? Let Nick Hornby point you in the right direction of some obscure gems in this highly entertaining collection of reviews from US literary magazine The Believer.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0241003336

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I am lucky enough to be typing this while sitting on the fifth floor of the magnificent new Library of Birmingham. Coming in at a whopping £189 million the burghers of the second city certainly haven't skimped in trying to create a 21st century centre of learning. Amongst all the interactive learning zones, digital galleries and coffee shops there are of course books. Many, many books. Over one million in fact. And this in an era when some critics have said that the book in its current form is dead.

The city of Birmingham's paean to the written word came to mind while browsing through Nick Hornby's 'Stuff I've Been Reading', an excellent collection of reviews and a spirited defence of how modern literature (with a bit of Dickens thrown in for good measure) can still inspire, educate and entertain the contemporary reader.

Best known for footballing classic Fever Pitch and a collection of thoughtful yet entertaining and highly readable novels, Hornby also has a sideline as a critic of sorts for The Believer, a US literary magazine whose philosophy could best be described as 'be nice or say nothing'. Stuff I've Been Reading is a collection of these columns from 2006 to 2011 and with apologies to the man from the Ronseal advert, it 'does exactly what it says on the tin'.

Of course a collection of reviews that only says fairly nice things about books could be an incredibly bland proposition. In fact it's refreshing. Hornby is a witty and insightful guide and there are plenty of good jokes amongst the more serious comment. The range of topics featured is extensive, from life in North Korea and racial politics in American football right through to Jamaican badasses and their unlikely love of Celine Dion and how a World Cup can ruin your reading habits for a month.

Particularly interesting are Hornby's comments on books about the creative process, whether it be music, movie making, art or of course writing. He is also a fierce defender of modern popular culture, even if you decide to consume only art made in the twentieth century and the first part of the twenty-first, you're going to end up familiar with a lot of good stuff, enough to last you a lifetime... great writing is going on all around us, always has done, always will. That great writing may be an epic poem about the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, a biography of The Band, the story of hit US sketch show Saturday Night Live or a young adult novel. The stuff is out there, it just needs to be found.

Reading journeys are still the richest, most stimulating and the cheapest journeys of all, writes Hornby, and you don't even have to go anywhere apart from inside your own head. And thanks to 'Stuff I've Been Reading' there are plenty of great journeys to look for on the bulging shelves of the Library of Birmingham.

If you'd like to read something else by Nick Hornby, you can try Juliet, Naked

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