A Witty and Delightfully Engaging Collection: Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby

Charlie Kennedy

Ten Years in the Tub CoverThe only negative thing to say about Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub is that the collection of columns (out in November) written between 2003 and 2013 leaves you with the feeling that your reading list is really quite pathetic in comparison to Hornby’s own eclectic reading range. And if one were, like Nick Hornby, writing for the Polysyllabic Spree, the 106 sinister yet doe-eyed young men and women who edit the Believer magazine, then one would never get away with a negative remark about a book, as is the ethos of the UK magazine. This ethos got Hornby a few slaps on the wrist while writing his column, "Stuff I’ve Been Reading," too, and it appears he was never afraid to voice it either. But thankfully the Polysyllabic Spree has nothing to do with this review.

Hornby, an English novelist, essayist, and screenwriter, is perhaps best known for his novels High Fidelity and About a Boy. In September 2003, Hornby turned in his inaugural column for the Believer, and the monthly installment became an instant favourite with readers. Publishing house McSweeney’s Books has bound together this charming collection in Ten Years in the Tub. The result is an entertaining, enlightening read from an author of intellect and humility, a writer with an engaging, original, and distinct voice, a writer who knows that in order to be a better writer, one must be a better reader, too.

It should be noted that there aren’t all ten years worth of columns within this witty and delightfully engaging collection. There are gaps, from a mere month or two, to a couple of years. Naturally, one doesn’t expect to find all one hundred and twenty months of columns included—I’m sure the editor would have pushed a couple aside, perhaps the content too similar (after ten years, the same kind of joke—of which Hornby is something of a natural at—would crop up more than once). We jump from 2008 to 2010, Hornby noting a break away from the publication in order to work on other projects, and there are a couple of instances where Hornby openly admits to suspension from the publication being the cause for a missed month or two. This is honestly rather endearing, and admirable for both parties: Hornby willing to hold up his hands and the editors of the Believer opting to keep such grumblings (and they most certainly were, on Hornby’s part, from time to time) rather than omit them.

While some months (mainly when Hornby’s beloved football team, Arsenal, were playing) Hornby admitted to a rather slack reading habit—including a humorous declaration of a Scientist Award he invented to cover writing space—most months were deliciously rich with an assortment of reading material and, at times, certainly unusual reading choices; from a Celine Dion essay, to a biography on the Mötley Crüe, from a collection of Chekhov’s letters, to a revisit of Dickens classics.

What’s most admirable about each of Hornby’s reading expeditions is that he brings such intelligence and true reading enthusiasm to each and every topic. Hornby’s delightful conversational tone invites itself into your reading group; it’s a personal, honest, no-nonsense tone, with humour and snark and wryness. Here’s a writer who quite simply, knows how to read. His enthusiasm (and frustration) for readers and reading jumps from the page.

Upon approaching the collection, I wanted to ask Hornby how he proposed I read Ten Years in the Tub. Each column runs an average of five pages. Was I meant to read through—reading it in its entirety within the usual time frame of my usual reading pace for a book of its size (in hardcover, 488 pages)? Or should I approach each column like a rich dessert, a few small bites at a time?

For me, it seemed that a couple of columns at a time was more than enough. I found myself frustrated at the slowness of my reading—here was Hornby ploughing through nine books in October 2004, and I was committed and bound to just reading one: his. But what a pleasure it was. A slow read, yes, but one to savour. One to dip into and out of, one to pull out of the bag when waiting for the bus, one to pick up before turning off the light at night.

Hornby’s enthusiasm and genuine love for the written word, whether he has to abandon a book or not (a Believer condition—don’t like it; don’t write about it), is infectious in those bite-size portions that the book allows you to read. And Hornby speaks true to every reader and writer and lover of the written word with little quips that leave you mulling over his observations long after you’ve moved onto the next page: "But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purpose, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not."

Hornby confesses that there are plenty of books bought and not read (and no apologies made), but his simple love of books has made those last ten years of writing about the stuff he’s been reading such a delight, and in turn, reading ­Ten Years in the Tub is a reader’s delight. It’s relatable and informative, and is one of those books that will sit in the read, rather than the still-to-read, pile. With such a thoughtful, smart, and just plain enjoyable narrator to take you through a decade of his own reading experience, Ten Years in the Tub won’t disappoint.


Ten Years in the Tub
Nick Hornby
McSweeney's Books, 2013
ISBN 978-1938073731

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