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January 3-9, 2007

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'Housekeeping vs. the Dirt'

Housekeeping vs. the Dirt
(By Nick Hornby; McSweeney's; 152 pages; $14 paper)

For the past four years, British novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) has been trying out a new kind of book reviewing in The Believer magazine. He approaches novels casually, chummily—like a man paid to taste beer, rather than sip down novels. "The whole purpose of books is that we read them," he writes in Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, his second compendium of these columns. That he needs to assert this at all suggests there might indeed be a problem with criticism. Each column begins with a list of "books bought" and "books read." Thus we follow Hornby through an idiosyncratic, occasionally accidental year of perusing—high art often rubbing shoulders with trash. "I would like my personal reading map to resemble a map of the British Empire circa 1900," Hornby writes. "I'd like people to look at it and think, How the hell did he end up right over there?" These personal asides don't always make for great, objective criticism, but Hornby's point is that reading isn't an objective experience. In his case, sometimes he knows the author. He also has a block against books where children are hurt, and he is willing to be suckered by a great blurb. "If I had to choose between a Celine Dion fan and Anthony Burgess for comedy recommendations, I would go with the person standing on the table singing 'The Power of Love' every time."

Review by John Freeman


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