Shakespeare Wrote for Money is the third collection of the columns Mr. Hornby wrote for Believer magazine about the books he read each month. This is the column that almost got me to subscribe to Believer; a popular author with eclectic reading tastes, writing about the books he’s reading every month–sounds like the perfect thing for every incurable biblioholic to me.
Shakespeare Wrote for Money, the final collection, covers Mr. Hornby’s reading from August 2006 to September 2008 and includes September 2006 when Mr. Hornby read not a single book, due to his obsession with watching the World Cup. It’s nice to know that even a devoted reader takes a month off now and then.
Each entry begins with a list of the books Mr. Hornby read that month along side a list of the books he bought. The lists never match. Book bloggers tend to love lists of books and I freely admit that these added greatly to my own enjoyment of Shakespeare Wrote for Money. (What is it about list of books that we all like so much? Are we really closeted librarians?) The articles/chapters are breezily written and tend to wonder off on whatever tangents Mr. Hornby’s reading suggests, though never in an uninteresting way. One month he reads several books about East Germany’s police force the Stasi and a couple on mental illness, while in another he discovers the world of Young Adult fiction. He claims that his editors, whom he calls the Polyphonic Spree, won’t allow him to write bad reviews so he ends up recommending almost everything he reads. (This does have the side effect of adding titles to ones TBR list. Consider yourself warned.)
Though not as eclectic as I am, since he freely admits his complete lack of interest in fantasy and science fiction, Mr. Hornby reads a wide range of material. His reviews cover non-fiction, some popular, some more serious, and fiction ranging from literature in translation, to graphic novels, to classics, to Young Adult fiction, to best sellers. There is something for almost everyone in Shakespeare Wrote for Money. (Except, of course, people who read only fantasy and science fiction.)
While Mr. Hornby is a successful author, he reads more like an everyman. You won’t find an esoteric critique of literature in these columns, but you will find an honest and open reflection on what one man’s reading experience was like. When something moves him in an embarrassing way, he admits it. When something begins to bore him, he admits that as well. At least, as much as his editors who do not like negative reviews will allow. He does not recommend books that are good for you or that should be read, but books that he enjoyed reading. A useful distinction that makes Shakespeare Wrote for Money a useful and entertaining read.
This review first ran on my old blog, Ready Wheny You Are, C.B., back in 2008. I think Mr. Hornby’s three books have recently been rereleased in a single volume. Just in time for the holidays.