Ten Years in the Tub

“All the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal” – Nick Hornby


21944945I debated the wisdom of reviewing this book, because if I do my job right and convince you to read it, too, I’ll have put myself out of business. In fact, after reading the first chapter of Ten Years in the Tub, I almost packed up and left the blogosphere, because nothing I can produce could ever come close to rivaling Nick Hornby’s insightful wit. Fortunately (or unfortunately, I’ll let you be the judge), my narcissism and need for immediate validation came to the rescue, and my blog lives to see another day.

Ten Years in the Tub is a compilation of Nick Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column, as featured in the bimonthly lit mag The Believer. (The column is ongoing, but the book collects installments from September 2003 to June 2013.) At the beginning of each month, Hornby includes two lists, “books bought” and “books read,” and then spends five pages chatting about the “books read.” I say “chatting” because that’s exactly what he does. He strikes an easy, conversational, occasionally hyperbolic tone that makes you feel like you’re sitting in a pub swapping stories rather than reading an award-winning author’s thoughts on a bunch of books.

What kind of books? All kinds. No, seriously — all. There are recurring themes, of course (his devotion to Dickens almost rivals mine to Annie Dillard), but as a rule, Hornby reads all over the map. Fiction, nonfiction, children’s, YA, sports, biography, nine-hundred-page histories of the life of SNL — genre and demographic don’t matter, so long as the book is interesting. (And if it isn’t, he abandons it, listing it as anonymous literary novel or biography (unfinished) in his “books read” column, and provides a colorful account as to why he stopped reading it.)

And yes, Hornby freely admits to abandoning books. In fact, he says it’s essential to one’s health as a reader, because “we often read books that we think we ought to read, or that we think we ought to have read, or that other people think we should read,” and in doing so, spend less and less time reading the books we really want to read. This is perhaps the best (and, depending on who you talk to, the most controversial) advice Hornby has to offer: reading is supposed to be enjoyable. Always. And if it’s not, well, then you’re reading the wrong books.

I realize that at 450+ pages, Hornby’s is a hard book to sell, but trust me, friends, this one’s worth the read. To borrow from the author, “I understood about one word in every four” of Ten Years in the Tub, and it was still the most delightful and engaging book I’ve read all year (with the exception of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please). And if you’re worried that you’re not well-read enough to enjoy a book about books, don’t be, because in the end, Ten Years in the Tub is less about books and more about reading, specifically

the how, and when, and why, and what of reading — about the way that, when reading is going well, one book leads to another and to another, a paper trail of theme and meaning; and how, when it’s going badly, when books don’t stick or take, when your mood and the mood of the book are fighting like cats, you’d rather do anything but attempt the next paragraph, or reread the last one for the tenth time.

Toss in a few fist-fights with nineteenth-century novelists (“We fought, Wilkie Collins and I…”) and the solid declaration that “pizza always beats art,” and you’ve got a winner. 4.75/5 stars.

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