Nick Hornby’s best known for writing novels featuring believable (and sympathetic) slacker man-boy characters, but his critical essays are easily the equal of his novels.
Though Hornby’s Songbook doesn’t quite measure up to his autobiographical book review series (or maybe I’m simply a bigger book lover than music fiend), it’s still an entertaining, cogent series of personal essays about music.
Songbook highlights 31 of Hornby’s favorite pop music standards, and wrapped around each is his personal connection to the songs. Some of them — especially those pertaining to his autistic son — are very personal, and the net effect is to render Songbook as much autobiographical as critical.
Hornby definitely walks a fine line here (any personal essay runs the risk of stepping into navel gazing territory) but he does a good job of speaking to his personal preferences and history without abandoning the reader.
In the end, the essays are wholly engaging — even when he’s talking about music I’ve never heard. That’s probably because he delves into concepts like overexposure to pop music, the value of pop (despite its sometimes simplistic lyrics) and the divergence (currently) of pop music and social change.
Stuff like that.
Interesting stuff like that.
As a confirmed Hornby fanboy, I don’t believe Songbook represents his best essay work, but I’m glad I finally broke down and bought it.