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Spotlight on: Songbook (31 Songs) by Nick Hornby

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Songbook by Nick Hornby Nick Hornby, Songbook (31 Songs)

Anybody who has read (or seen the movie of) High Fidelity knows that Nick Hornby knows his music. Well, he's just proven it again with his writing in Songbook (also known as 31 Songs).

Songbook is a collection of short essays describing his thoughts and feelings (often tangential associations) regarding songs by Teenage Fanclub, Nelly Furtado, Aimee Mann and Ani Difranco, Bob Dylan and the Beatles, Suicide, and others. There aren't 31 essays because Hornby often combines linked thoughts about two different songs in one essay. He delves deep into his personal likes and dislikes and, in the process, has produced a book that is almost a "how-to" of cool. He feels no shame in liking pop music, as long as it's good pop music. What that consists of you'll have to read to find out.

If this were just a book about music, that would be good enough for it to find a place on my music reference shelf (where it fits in quite nicely next to my Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll and my increasingly rare copy of the invaluable Rolling Stone Record Guide), but it's also--as good reviews are--a portrait of the man himself and the state in which he experienced the songs.

Hornby tells us how he doesn't like to listen to depressing music anymore because life's depressing enough--the only people who can afford to listen to it are those to whom nothing really bad has happened to, he says. He also mention how his book About a Boy--which was inspired by, but is not about, his son--led to a song being on the soundtrack of the movie adaptation that somehow managed to be precisely about his son. It's these kinds of musings that give you entry into the mind of an artist and make him into a real person, not just someone who is paid to entertain you. I found that in many ways, I identified with Hornby and the place he was in his life when he wrote these essays. And that made the reading experience all the more real for me.

(This paperback edition is lacking the CD that accompanied the hardcover edition, but in its place are five new essays not appearing in that printing, including another about Aimee Mann (focusing on her album, Bachelor No. 2) and an album review of a Los Lobos boxed set that are just as good as the others. Then, at the very end, he lists some particular recommendations that any music fan would do well to take into consideration. Songbook isn't just a book of music criticism, it's one man's autobiography in time. Pick it up.)

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