17 December, 2007

'31 Songs' - Nick Hornby

When you've set the benchmark for a modern genre, it seems reasonable to publish a book of your personal digressions on a topic integral to your novelistic style. In Nick Hornby's case, that topic is popular culture, or more specifically in this case, pop music. Here are 31 songs that mean more than just a bit, songs that have defined moments but, more than that, have stayed with Hornby over time and have often transformed to take on new meanings. His musical knowledge is aptly demonstrated. He is a man who listens on many levels, hearing the subtlety in pop music that one reads into literature or looks for in art.

Right from the start, this isn't a concept that is going to please everyone. In 'High Fidelity' each of Rob's Top 5 lists is laid out there in a fictional context: just like his record-shop mates the reader is free to criticise or nod sagely in agreement. Here though, Hornby is putting his favourites out in the real world. There's no fantasy or other characters to hide behind. And, if you have never had a relationship with a song that lasted longer than its three-and-a-half minute duration, then the book's appeal would be lost to you by the time you're halfway through the introduction.

If, however, your record collection has played a significant role in your emotional development, then there's always the problem of personal taste. I hit my first taste obstacle with just the third song of the book and my immediate response was, momentarily, to wonder how I could go further and trust the taste of a man publicly proclaiming his satisfaction with this particular songstress (granted, with only one specific song of hers). Such disagreements are inevitable, but are also in fact part of the point that Hornby is trying to make. These songs are about him: he is relating his inner self and experiences through what these songs mean to him, rather than using up his, his publisher's and the reader's time simply expounding on what he likes. It's not the choice of songs that are most relevant, it's what Hornby reveals about himself in describing why each song is included. That level of honesty and philosophy, combined with his music knowledge, make this a worthwhile exploration.

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