Reading & Reviewing | HORNBY nick
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R&R 100 | 31 Songs

WOOHOO! After almost 3 years, we finally have review 100.
The Story so Far.

Nick Hornby
31 Songs
First published in:
This edition:
Genre: non-fiction, music, autobiography
Note: I will fill in the info tomorrow, I'm posting this and then I better get some sleep 🙂


100th review foreword:
Reading & Reviewing has been such a great challenge for me. It was (and still is) all about the reading experience and expanding that by being more aware of the pages I flipped, the printed words I soaked up in my brain. For the 100th review, I have selected the book 31 Songs by Nick Hornby, because it signifies what Reading & Reviewing has meant to me so far: making the most of a reading experience.

31 Songs is author Nick Hornby's very personal account of what music means to him; 31 Songs is a collection of essays, each concerning one song (or at times, two songs), followed by a few essays on several albums Hornby has appreciated over the years.

So how does one review a book about music? Why, by listening to each song as you read, of course. I feel that you can't understand a book about specific songs unless you introduce yourself to these songs. So I had an iPhone playlist. It contained 31 Songs. I listened to them on a picknick blanket, outside on the grass in my backyard, sun shining down, not a care in the world.

And this is why 31 Songs gets to be review 100: for this one I was not only inclined to review a book, but to really experience so much more than just the words. Oh, that experience.
(Note: I also read the CD essays, but for me this was really mostly about the songs.)

Even though I listened to the songs Hornby writes about, I was well aware that this wasn't supposed to be about me liking or not liking HIS songs, but to think about my own experiences with music, and to feel inspired to attach more meaning to music.

A few examples to clarify:
– Pop music, Hornby concludes in his 3rd essay, can be moving (progressing), too. For me, Lady Gaga is an example of progressive pop music. She has a unique look on music and fashion and isn't afraid to shock (meat suit, hello?). Pop music represents, in a way, the future – there's always that next great song waiting to come out. I love this about modern music: anticipation for that next great song. You don't know what it is yet. It will knock you off your feet when you hear it.
– I liked Hornby's idea of making a mixtape (or in this day and age, an iPod playlist) regularly of songs that speak to him at that time; newly discovered songs he loves at the moment.
– Hornby feels God (or: a higher being, something spiritual) is in music sometimes. For me, a non-believer, this is also the case: music makes me feel connected in some way to something not-human-but-not-quite-God. It brings comfort, hope, understanding and relief where for others, religion does that. (The photo accompanying this review, I was listening to some music that always gets to me. That makes me feel, so much.)
– Though I tried looking at this book through my own musical… ears, I did find that one song in particular enchanted me, and I'm glad I discovered it via 31 Songs. I'm talking about Ani DiFranco's "You Had Time", which is a fantastic, moving and deeply precious break-up song. I wish I'd known about it in those days when break-ups (and even endings of friendships) sucked up all of my mental and physical energy. I could have used this gentle, accepting song. Break-ups would have felt more beautiful, then.

As I got through about a third of 31 Songs, I realized I wasn't reviewing as much as I was responding; in my notes I felt like I was preparing a reply to Hornby, a dialogue. I could imagine us two sitting in a pub discussing music together. Brilliant, really.

We would talk about:
– How he was right, I should have listened to his advice and NOT play Suicide's "Frankie Teardrop" while wearing headphones. The song is a depressing mess, with the leadsinger screaming (!) bloody murder into your ears when you least expect it. Cheerful songs (Vampire Weekend being a prime and recent example in my case) is sometimes just better.
– "About a boy". We would talk about "About a boy" and how the 'About' was not a good idea to begin a title with, granted. But I would tell him, who cares? We love the book anyway.
– His son, an autist. I would listen to Hornby talk with so much love about his boy. I would brush away, quickly and hoping he didn't see it… I would brush away a little tear which didn't signify that I felt pity, but that I understood, having grown up with a brother with (albeit it a significantly lighter form of) autism. I'm glad Hornby has a way to connect with his son: music.Sometimes music is communication. Language. It can say so much.
– How he feels you shouldn't have to agree with his tastes in music; rather he just wants you to come up with your own songs. He'd be challenging me to think about this long and hard.

So what are my songs, I started to wonder? I tentatively made this list of songs so important, they don't have just the one memory attached to them – rather, they lasted with me for years throughout many different memories. What are MY songs?

Tori Amos's "Winter" – it feels like snow, comfort, childhood (growing up) and cinnamon candles, molasses cookies, Christmas trees about to be put up. Thirteen Senses with "Into the Fire" is passionate. Boston's "More Than a Feeling" feels like freedom, like I can do anything. Sia's "Breathe Me" never fails to stir within me the deepest emotions I can feel. If I need to feel, to connect to what I'm trying to repress, I listen to that song. It is catharsis. Regina Spektor's "Us" is a musical miracle and I am more fascinated by it the more I hear it. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's "Somewhere over the rainbow" is my salute to a dearly departed loved one who has always shown tremendous faith in my abilities to do anything. That song, listening to it, is my way of thanking him. U2's "With or Without You" was my first foray into good music, as opposed to going with the crowd and listening to the Backstreet Boys because it was the cool thing to do. Springsteen's newer "Queen of the Supermarket" to me is synonymous with timelessness. How I love that song. Kansas' "Dust in the Wind" is melancholy, and one of the songs I love to sing most, with the most feeling.

I can think of a few more, but not too many. Because I still have some years ahead of me to discover for myself which songs have impacted me. I'm experienced in some areas in life, but such a noob regarding others. For those areas, I have yet to find my soundtrack.

(What are your songs? Think about it.)

I honestly don't know what I loved more: the reading experience itself, combined with listening to music and analyzing it all in good time – or the lessons I have learned for myself from reading this book.
All I know is that I am so glad I read this book, and how I did it. I see it as an experience I wouldn't have want to miss in the world. Has my life changed? In a way, it has. Music, as I explained earlier, is to me like religion is to a lot of people. Contemplating that what brings you closer to accepting certain things and finding joy and hope, well, that's a worthy cause. I do feel a better appreciation for music simply by reading one guy's sweet and honest love letter to his music.

31 Songs, I'm not there yet. But I'm on the look out. I'm thinking, and one day I'll have a complete list, too. I'm excited about this. Music means the world to me (as much as books do). Thank you, Nick Hornby, for reminding me of this.

Original R&R series © Karin E. Lips 2008-2010 (and beyond)
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