Lets get things straight from the start with this one, it is not a book about songwriting. But its attraction for me as an apprentice songwriter was that it offered the potential of an insight into why people like songs. What makes a song connect deeply enough for it to reach someone’s all-time top 31 songs list.
Having read the book, and enjoyed doing so, I can honestly say I am no more enlightened. Perhaps like all of us, Hornby has no distinct pattern to the music he likes. He exposes no particular love for a genre or specific words or sounds that trigger the deep connection he has with certain songs.
What unfolds in Hornby’s Desert-Island-Disc-like manuscript is more a diary of events and life stages for which each chosen song was (and is) a title track.
We could all do the same. And there lies the connection as a reader. Even in vague terms, we all go through the same stages in life. Being a boy, struggling to find an identity as a teenager, the first fumblings of lust, love won and lost, marriage, parenthood, etc etc. Throughout the book you can’t help but draw parallels and ask your self what your song of the moment was that stage. And as you do, you find yourself smiling, frowning and sometimes even wiping away a tear or two.
I’m not suggesting for a second that this is a deep and meaningful book. But it is written by an author with a tremendous track record of emotional honesty and if you have read his other works (as I have) you will enjoy the occasional connections with, and references to, those milestones in Nick’s actual and fictional life.
An interesting twist I didn’t expect was that after a few chapters I back-tracked and started reading again, this time making a point of listening to each track the chapter was a dedicated to carefully before reading it. Each one was a no-brain find on Youtube and as I listened I enjoyed sinking into Hornby’s soul a little more. I relaxed and relished each chapter along with its musical accompaniment and discovered some interesting new music in the process.
All that said, if this book were a movie it would not be an action thriller, a weepy romance or a rib tickling comedy. It would be a ‘human interest’ movie. The kind of film in which the joy is simply to be found in the everyday interactions and emotions of normal people living normal lives. I have to confess to enjoying that kind of film and being captivated by this book in a very similar way.
As I closed the last page of the 208 pages I certainly felt as if I knew Hornby more intimately – and liked him more than I expected to. On reflection that’s simply down to the style of the book which felt like an informal, often rambling conversation with a mate down at the local pub. But I can’t help wondering if there had been another side to the conversation, what alternatives would I have offered as my 31 songs?
And what would my new-found imaginary drinking buddy Nick have thought of my 31-song choices and the reasons behind them?
Don’t expect to learn anything or to ever be on the edge of your seat by this easy and pleasing read which is made much more enjoyable if you check the tracks out first.