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Songbook by Nick Hornby
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Songbook

by Nick Hornby

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A great book of music criticism and why music matters ( )
  CBMcGuire | May 1, 2014 |
I thought this book was outstanding. It was very interesting to hear about Mr. Hornby's relationship to music and certain songs in particular. It was fascinating to get inside the head of someone who wanted to be a musician, but decided to become a writer because it was the closest he could get to writing songs. These aren't necessarily Mr. Hornby's favorite songs; they are songs with which he has a special relationship; not necessarily because of certain memories that the songs summon up, but because the song themselves, the music and the lyrics together, give him something to think about.

If you enjoy reading about the impact music has had on the lives and thoughts of other people, I would suggest reading this book. It is well-written, and personally, I always find Mr. Hornby can make me laugh, even while he's discussing a serious topic. Definitely worth the price of admission! ( )
1 vote harrietbrown | Jan 13, 2014 |
While not nearly as entertaining as his essays about books, it did introduce me to music & musicians I had not heard of before. ( )
  ELiz_M | Apr 6, 2013 |
p. 43 ...the best music connects to the soul, not the brain, and I worry that all this Dylan-devotion is somehow antimusic - that it tells us that the heart doesn't count, and only the head matters.

p. 49-50 "All art constantly aspires toward the condition of music," Walter Pater said, in one of the only lines of criticism that has ever meant anything to me (if I could write music, I'd never have bothered with books); music is such a pure form of self-expression, and lyrics, because they consist of words, are so impure, and songwriters, even great ones...find that, even though they can produce both, words will always let you down.* One half of [the art of songwriting:] is aspiring toward the condition of the other half, and that must be weird, to feel so inspired and so fallibly human, all at the same time.

*disagree!

p. 52 ...romance, with its dips and turns and glooms and highs, its swoops and swoons and blues, is a natural metaphor for music itself.

p. 92 And that's what music needs: this kind of devotion, this assumption that the artists know what they're doing and that, if you give them the time and the requisite confidence, they will deliver something that you will end up cherishing.

p. 107 ...there is something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out.

p. 117 I can't afford to be a pop snob anymore, and if there is a piece of music out there that has the ability to move me, I want to hear it, no matter who's made it...You're either for music or you're against it, and being for it means embracing anyone who's any good.

p. 122-23 Your old music cannot sustain you through a life, not if you're someone who listens to music every day, at every opportunity.

p. 125 [about obscure music that you won't notice in big chain stores:] But what if you didn't even know that you wanted to hear it? How will you notice it then...?

p. 141 How is it possible to love or connect to music that is as omnipresent as carbon monoxide?

p. 142 What can I connect to that I'm not going to get sick of within weeks, that isn't going to have its melodic weaknesses and lyrical banalities exposed by a[n:] ad? ...God knows we need something that isn't going to come apart in our ears through sheer overuse.

p. 146 ...they're using the scraps we have left for firewood so that we have something to huddle round while the hell of the modern musical word freezes over.

p. 161 [re albums:] like London buses, you wait for three years and two turn up at once.

p. 162 [Aimee Mann's:] arguments are geometrically unique in possessing only one side. ( )
  JennyArch | Apr 3, 2013 |
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.
( )
  TCWriter | Mar 31, 2013 |
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For Lee, and all the other people who have introduced me to new songs.
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So we were dong this thing, this launch party, for Speaking with the Angel, a book of short stories I put together to raise money for my son's school and we -- the school, the publishers of the book, me and my partner -- were nervous about it.
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The thing that puzzles me about those who feel that contemporary pop (and I use the word to encompass soul, reggae, country, rock - anything and everything that might be regarded as trashy) is beneath them, or behind them, or beyond them - some preposition denoting distance, anyway: Does this mean that you never hear, or at least never enjoy, new songs, that everything you whistle or hum was written years, decades, centuries ago? Do you really deny yourselves the pleasure of mastering a tune (a pleasure, incidentally, that your generation is perhaps the first in the history of mankind to forgo) because you are afraid it might make you look as if you don’t know who Harold Bloom is? Wow. I’ll bet you’re fun at parties.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0971904774, Hardcover)

The personal essays in Nick Hornby's Songbook pop off the page with the immediacy and passion of an artfully arranged mix-tape. But then, who better to riff on 31 of his favorite songs than the author of that literary music-lover's delight, High Fidelity?

"And mostly all I have to say about these songs is that I love them, and want to sing along to them, and force other people to listen to them, and get cross when these other people don't like them as much as I do," writes Hornby. More than his humble disclaimer, he captures "the narcotic need" for repeat plays of Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like a Bird," and testifies that "you can hear God" in Rufus Wainwright's coy reinterpretation of his father Loudon's "One Man Guy" ("given a neat little twist by Wainwright Junior's sexual orientation..."). Especially poignant is his reaction to "A Minor Incident," a Badly Drawn Boy song written for the soundtrack of the film version of Hornby's book About a Boy. While Hornby was writing the book, his young son was diagnosed with autism--a fact that adds greater resonance to the seemingly unrelated song he hears much later: "I write a book that isn't about my kid, and then someone writes a beautiful song based on an episode in my book that turns out to mean something much more personal to me than my book ever did." Meandering asides and observations like this linger in your mind (just like a fantastic song) long after you've flipped past the final page.

The 11-song CD that accompanies the book is a great touch, but it's too bad it doesn't contain all of the featured songs--most likely the unfortunate result of licensing difficulties. Overall, Hornby's pitch-perfect prose, the quirky illustrations from Canadian artist Marcel Dzama, and a good cause--proceeds benefit TreeHouse, a U.K. charity for children with autism, and 826 Valencia, the nonprofit Bay Area learning center--add up to make Songbook a hit. Solid gold. --Brad Thomas Parsons

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:40 -0400)

Here, Nick Hornby writes about 31 songs - most of them loved, some of them once loved, all of them significant to him - encompassing singers as varied as Van Morrison and Nelly Furtado, and songs as different as Bruce Springsteen's 'Thunder Road' and a reggae rendition of 'Puff the Magic Dragon'.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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