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Songbook Hardcover – December, 2002

4.2 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

The personal essays in Nick Hornby's Songbook pop off the page with the immediacy and passion of an artfully arranged mix-tape. But then, who better to riff on 31 of his favorite songs than the author of that literary music-lover's delight, High Fidelity?

"And mostly all I have to say about these songs is that I love them, and want to sing along to them, and force other people to listen to them, and get cross when these other people don't like them as much as I do," writes Hornby. More than his humble disclaimer, he captures "the narcotic need" for repeat plays of Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like a Bird," and testifies that "you can hear God" in Rufus Wainwright's coy reinterpretation of his father Loudon's "One Man Guy" ("given a neat little twist by Wainwright Junior's sexual orientation..."). Especially poignant is his reaction to "A Minor Incident," a Badly Drawn Boy song written for the soundtrack of the film version of Hornby's book About a Boy. While Hornby was writing the book, his young son was diagnosed with autism--a fact that adds greater resonance to the seemingly unrelated song he hears much later: "I write a book that isn't about my kid, and then someone writes a beautiful song based on an episode in my book that turns out to mean something much more personal to me than my book ever did." Meandering asides and observations like this linger in your mind (just like a fantastic song) long after you've flipped past the final page.

The 11-song CD that accompanies the book is a great touch, but it's too bad it doesn't contain all of the featured songs--most likely the unfortunate result of licensing difficulties. Overall, Hornby's pitch-perfect prose, the quirky illustrations from Canadian artist Marcel Dzama, and a good cause--proceeds benefit TreeHouse, a U.K. charity for children with autism, and 826 Valencia, the nonprofit Bay Area learning center--add up to make Songbook a hit. Solid gold. --Brad Thomas Parsons


"That whole subculture, all those mournful guys to whom the sound of record-store bin dividers clicking by is almost music enough, should love Songbook, yet so should anyone interested in great essays, or in the delicate art of being funny, or in how to write about one's feelings in such a way that other people will actually care."—The San Francisco Chronicle

"Delivered in a hugely enjoyable, invisible prose that does in words what Hornby’s tunesmiths do with sound. He writes good."—Time Out London

"Quintessentially Hornby: an idiosyncratic and charming exploration of the meaning of music and how it changes as we grow up and grow old."—SeattleWeekly.com

"A book about the joy of listening to great pop songs, about the elusive genius of a catchy chorus...what shines most is Hornby himself—his wry self-awareness, his disarming honesty. Effortlessly readable, every chapter reminds us how special an observer of human behavior Hornby is"—Heat

“A small, singular, delightful collection [about] the power of songs to bind people culturally and to reach deeply into the human spirit, bending the heart into new shapes with new potential.”—The New York Times Book Review

"When Hornby writes about his enthusiasms and how they intertwine with his life, he's amusing and inspiring."—Rolling Stone

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 147 pages
  • Publisher: Mcsweeneys Books (December 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0971904774
  • ISBN-13: 978-0971904774
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 7.5 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,020,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book, sight unseen, simply because of the description, which was: Nick Hornby, one of my favorite writers, had written a book about a bunch of his favorite songs. That's all I needed to know, that sounded great to me, I was sold.
I've been a Hornby fan since Fever Pitch. When High Fidelity (the book) came out, I was amazed: it felt like Hornby had been eavesdropping on my mind, because I tend to agree with a lot of his opinions about music and music lovers. Similarly, I'm a big fan of the reviews he wrote for The New Yorker a few years ago.
So I ordered the book and it showed up in my box and I immediately turned to the table of contents to see: which songs did he write about??? And I was surprised, and a bit disappointed, to see that I only recognized about a dozen of the titles. And there wasn't one song in the bunch that I considered a personal favorite. And when I listened to the songs I didn't know (included on a handy-dandy CD)... they didn't blow me away. But that's the beauty of a mix tape and, despite the fact that it's printed on paper, this is a mix tape.
And this one comes with great liner notes. Hornby's a smart, entertaining, intuitive writer. I may sound like a disappointed fan trying to make the best of a book that didn't satisfy me 100%, but even when Hornby's writing about music I haven't heard, it's still enjoyable, it's still worthwhile, it's still exposing me to things I previously didn't know about.
Even when he's confessing to not being a huge Dylan fan and confesses to preferring a Rod Stewart cover of one of my favorite Dylan songs to the original (which is, of course, the true road to enternal damnation), he does so in a way that's completely relatable even to a Dylan fanatic.
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Format: Hardcover
I suppose I should admit up front that I'm one of those people who would buy the phone book if Hornby wrote it. That cavaet aside, this lovely little volume with accompanying CD is the best written explanation of why people who love "pop" music do so. Hornby uses the word "pop" not only to refer to garbage of the Britney Spears/'NSYNC ilk, but as a broad distinguisher from classical, jazz, and sofroth. The 26 brief essays aren't about his favorite pop songs, nor are they about what the songs remind him of, rather these are songs that he loves (as of the time of writing) and has something to say about.
As readers of his football memoir, Fever Pitch, know, Hornby writes exceedingly well about being a fan. And more than anything, the book is about being a fan of the 3-4 minute pop tune. Of course, this neccesitates a spirited defence of pop as a genre, so throughout the book, Hornby is on the attack, railing against small-minded snobs (including his younger self) who dismiss pop music out of hand. People who've spent a good portion of their lives paying attention to pop music will find a lot of themselves in the book, and may be struck with a newfound openmindedness. And by this measure, any book that can get me to track down an old J. Geils Band album has got be considered noteworthy! (Although I remain unmoved by his essay on reconsidering Jackson Browne.)
As always, Hornby's writing is funny, poignant, telling, and dead on. His skewering of church music is priceless, as is his explanation of why "Let's Get It On" is a terrible song to have sex to, why Led Zepplin rocked his 14-year-old world, how Rod Stewart led him to Motown music, the tedium of being a music reviewer for The New Yorker, and much more.
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By A Customer on April 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
1 Paul Westerberg - Born For Me
2 Teenage Fanclub - Your Love is the Place Where I Come From
3 The Bible - Glorybound
4 Aimee Mann - I've Had It
5 Rufus Wainwright - One Man Guy
6 Rod Stewart - Mama You Been On My Mind
7 Badly Drawn Boy - A Minor Incident
8 Teenage Fanclub - Ain't That Enough
9 Ben Folds Five - Smoke
10 Mark Mulcahy - Hey Self Defeater
11 Ani DiFranco - You Had Time
The book is genuinely more engaging than his pop music criticism for The New Yorker as he is obviously writing with his heart as opposed to his head.
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Format: Paperback
Hornby covers a wide range of topics here. He discusses how our favorite songs eventually blend in as part of our personalities, and we'll never be able to really remember the first time we heard them. There are discussions about how it's okay to claim that certain songs from revered artists just plan suck, and how there is no such as the perfect song for making love. He talks about how the next Lennon/McCartney team is probably already out there, but fragmented nature of the music industry will keep them from ever reaching the heights they deserve. There is some exploration of how songs with "edge" and "grit" will often leap to the forefront, but will never last for the ages. There's even some analysis of genuine musicianship, such as his investigation about how too many guitar solos are mean simply to take up space rather than capturing the soul of the song.
So before going much further, let's see what songs Hornby discusses in the book:
1. Your Love Is the Place I Come From by Teenage Fanclub
2. Thunder Road by Brice Springsteen
3. I'm Like a Bird by Nelly Furtato
4. Heartbreaker by Led Zeppelin
5. One Man Guy by Rufus Wainwright
6. Samba pa Ti by Santana
7. Mama You Been on My Mind by Rod Stewart
8. Can You Please Crawl out Your Window? by Bob Dylan and Rain by The Beatles
9. You've Had Time by Ani DiFranco and I've Had It by Aimee Mann
10. Born for Me by Paul Westerberg
11. Franie Teardrop by Suicide and Ain't That Enough by Teenage Fanclub
12. First I Look at the Purse by J. Geils Band
13. Smoke by Ben Folds Five
14. A Minor Incident by Badly Drawn Boy
15. Glorybound by The Bible
16. Caravan by Van Morrison
17. So I'll Run by Butch Hancock Marce LaCouture
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