Monday, August 23, 2010

The Polysyllabic Spree

My brother really likes the author Nick Hornby. Since he likes the author I have read several of Nick Hornby's books as well. I found them to be fairly good though I did not like them as much as my brother did. On one of my frequent trips to the library I came across the book The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby and took it out. The book contains several essays that were originally in a literary magazine. While I am not entirely sure that I have never read a literary magazine I don't recall doing so.

I have read next to none of the books that Nick talks about in his essays and for that reason I probably have a more negative view on this book than it really deserves. Part of the reason I have not read them is because some of the books mentioned were not released in my country, are self help books to stop smoking (I never picked up that habit), are on sports like Cricket (I don't understand that game), and are biographies (that is a genre I rarely read). I like how he starts his essays with a list of books bought and books read. The books bought list is usually longer and while that maybe the case for me on some months most months it wouldn't since I prefer to read a book from the library before buying it. That doesn't mean I don't buy books without reading them first I do. I also make impulse purchases and use online trading services to acquire books I have not read before. I probably spend too much on books but the main reason as to why I am trying to read more books than I buy is simply because I don't really have the room for more books.

I like that he doesn't limit himself to critiques on the books and has it more like an informal blog where he tells us about other things in his life or his opinion on other things. While not much of a gossip (I barely can be bothered with remembering actors and actresses names much less anything about them) I like it because as I had mentioned last paragraph I haven't read the vast majority of books he talks about. He does make some comments that I'd like to comment on.

...I became depressed by the realization that I'd forgotten pretty much everything I've ever read.
He then goes on to comment about how it is actually a good thing because he can reread them as if they were new. I often forget the title and the author but I can remember the plots and some details. Just skimming through something I read in the past is usually enough to recall it. While I have reread some books it is not something I do frequently. Even though some books are worth a second or even an eleventh read through there are so many books in existence that I generally pick up a new book rather than reread a book.

He makes a good point about paperback books. Prior to their invention books could sit on shelves for years until they become popular. Paperbacks and books in general nowadays pretty much have to sell well in their first year or they will go out of print and not develop a readership even if they are very good books their shelf life has gone down significantly. This is true for other reasons as well since the paper quality is much reduced and there is acid in the paper the books physically do not have the same shelf life as well.

Usually, books have gone out of print for a reason, and that reason is they're no good, or, at least, of very marginal interest.
In general I agree with that statement but the stated reasons are too commonly not the reasons as to why a book has gone out of print as often as it should be. I have seen pretty good books go out of print for other reasons such as the publisher went bankrupt, they were translated poorly, they were not marketed/advertised well, executive meddling, and piss poor cover designs (sure there is a saying don't judge a book by its cover but that doesn't stop people from doing so). In the case of manga and some foreign novels especially other factors besides not being good are the main reason that they are out of print. The poor quality not good works don't even get considered for translation so are much less likely to ever make it to this country outside of fan translations. A number of publishing companies went belly up, difficulties in acquiring the copyright, and especially poor marketing have killed some very good and extremely popular books. By extremely popular I mean in their home countries they sold more than a million copies, had a long series of manga and novels written about them, had multiple films and television series on them, were re-released dozens of times, etc. but because of mainly stupidity they either were cut short or are out of print here. Even here they were popular amongst those who actually new about them (some have had petitions asking for more that acquired large numbers of signatures) or sold out their first printings but still went out of print.

Every time I read a biography of a novelist, I discover that the novels in question are autobiographical to an almost horrifying degree.
I don't know how accurate that statement is because I haven't read very many biographies of novelists; though it did apply to the last one that I recall reading about Lewis Carroll best known for Alice in Wonderland. A lot of the scenes are based on places he had been. Someone (a mysterious they) said write what you know so that likely does explain why many novels are autobiographical in nature. Personally I would try not to contain aspects of my life. A lot of my life is boring and the rest I generally wouldn't want to share with others. I wouldn't even want to use life experiences for settings and background.

Another thing that he mentions that I found interesting was that he doesn't particularly like his own writing and doesn't like to receive books from editors and other people simply because they find them similar to his own writing. He rather be given books with the comment that this book is nothing like yours but is still a very good book take a look. I can understand that. I too don't really like my own writing, to the point that my fiction writing embarrasses me enough that I don't let other people read it.

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