Hornby’s ‘Good’ Books

It can happen anywhere: a dinner table, a pub, a bus queue, a classroom, a bookshop. You strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know, and you’re getting on OK, and then suddenly, without warning, you hear the five words that mean the relationship has no future beyond the time it takes to say them: “I think you’ll like it.”

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We are asked to believe, usually by critics, that the most important factor in our response to a book should be its objective quality – a good book is a good book – but we know that’s not true. Mood and taste are important, self-evidently, but mood and taste are formed by educational background, profession, health, amount of leisure time, marital status, state of marriage, gender (men don’t read much fiction, depressingly), age, age of children, relationships with children, and parents, and siblings, and, possibly, an unfortunate experience with Thomas Pynchon’s V as an overambitious and pretentious teenager. All these and thousands of others are governing factors, and many of them are wildly inconstant.

In addition to this thoughtfully equivocal definition of a good book, I’m looking forward to reading some of Hornby’s book suggestions.

I’ve also always have enjoyed his column in The Believer, “Stuff I’ve Been Reading”. Really, the way I blog (or the way I would like to blog) owes much to the rational and purpose of this column– reading a bunch of stuff and putting it together for other, anonymous people to read.

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