I've suspected it for some time now but my recent reading confirms it: Nick Hornby is one of my favorite authors. I've read a few of his novels, which I would recommend to just about anyone, but it's his collections of essays written for Believer magazine that have won my undying devotion. I'll confess straightaway that I've never picked up an issue of the magazine to read; rather, these essays came to me already in book form. The first collection that I read, The Polysyllabic Spree, I stumbled upon in my bookstore. The price was right (it was second hand) and I had an upcoming trip to visit my family in Wisconsin and thus would need plane reading, so reader, I bought it. Each essay begins with two lists--books he bought that month and books he read that month (a format which I might adopt from time to time in homage)--and then meanders through his book adventures, all the while making this reader laugh with his witty cultural observations and wry self-effacements.
The second installation of essays collected from Believer is even better. Housekeeping vs. The Dirt is funnier than anything I've read in a long time. Possibly even funnier than the Stephen Fry book I'm currently reading. I've also enjoyed it more because this time around he's been buying and/or reading more of the books that I've bought and/or read and he's got periodic shout-outs to indie bookstores. He's currently my book hero, even if the stuff I'm reading is woefully out of date (Feb 2005 through June/July 2006). Here's an excerpt: "I bought A Complicated Kindness at the Powell's bookstore in the Portland, Oregon, airport, after several fervent recommendations by the Powell's staff who looked after me at my signing. Did you know that you [Americans] have the best bookshops in the world? I hope so. Over here in England, the home of literature ha-ha, we have only chain bookstores, staffed by people who for the most part come across as though they'd rather be selling anything else anywhere else; meanwhile you have access to booksellers who would regard their failure to sell you novels about Mennonites as a cause of deep, personal shame. Please spend every last penny you have on books from independent bookstores."
Nick Hornby, folks. Go read him now. If you don't have any pennies left in this economy to buy the book at your favorite indie bookstore, go get his books from the library. Or you could just ask to borrow my collection.
In other book news, I wonder if anybody else has paired up Cormac McCarthy with the tv show Northern Exposure to write a book review. If not, then you heard it here first, y'all. Jim Lynch's forthcoming book from Knopf, Border Songs, is the most bizarre love child of Cormac McCarthy's westerns and the quirky characters from Northern Exposure. Honestly, I can think of no higher praise! There's a hint of menace lying under the surface of nearly every page but that menace is perfectly counterbalanced by one Brandon Vanderkool, a behemoth of a man who has recently joined the Border Patrol but who would much rather stay at home with his dairy cows and make shadow sculptures of birds. His bumbling, awkward ways, which once made him the object of local ridicule, have freakishly come together to make him the best damn BP man on duty. Brandon is infinitely endearing in his happenstances, whether he's making a bust on a would-be terrorist or discovering a hidden tunnel used for transporting drugs across the border from Canada to the US. Mr. Lynch has delivered a book that is both warm & wary. His sense of the ridiculous is tempered by the generosity he shows his characters, and I look forward to reading more from him. The readers at The Odyssey Bookshop liked the book so much that we've picked it for our July FEC selection.