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Monday, January 13, 2003

About an Obsession

This past weekend, I bought a book I'd been looking for for a few weeks, Songbook, by Nick Hornby. If you're not familiar with it, and you might not be, since it just came out, the conceit is that it's a book of short essays (average of about four pages each) about songs that mean something to Hornby. But really, it's more about the human condition, and Hornby uses his reactions to the songs to illuminate something about said condition, or perhaps sometimes uses said condition to illuminate something about the songs. In any case, he really is an exceptionally fine writer, and I've been devouring the book. I recommend it highly. This week, McSweeney's, the smart-assed publishing house run by Dave Eggers that published Hornby's book, is running brief essays about songs, starting today with one by Hornby that isn't in the book. (I'll probably have to edit this post later when the essay rolls into the archives, maybe as soon as tomorrow [yup, it was tomorrow].) This will be worth checking out this week, if the standard of the essays on the site stands up to those of the book.

If you get the book, and you should, probably the most affecting story is the one about Badly Drawn Boy's song "A Minor Incident", which was written for the film About a Boy, based on Hornby's book of the same name. I don't want to spoil the story, but ultimately it turns out that the song inspired by his book means more to him, and has more relevance to his life, than the book he wrote himself.

I was introduced to Hornby when my amazingly hip mom got me (and my brother) a copy of High Fidelity for Christmas about six years ago. The story, about a man in his mid-thirties with an obsession for music finally growing up and coming to a realization that there is actually something more to life than music, was, er, perhaps painfully close to home. His first book Fever Pitch, a memoir about what it's like to be devoted to a sports team (in his case, the Arsenal football club in the English Premier soccer league), is another closely-observed dissection of an unhealthy obsession that seemed way too familiar to me. That kind of obsession seems to me to be the thing that Hornby is at his best chronicling. Songbook is another classic about obsession.

Posted at 8:49 PM

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What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

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