“More Baths, Less Talking” is a another wonderful collection of Hornby articles from his “Believer” column. What is astounding is Hornby’s ability to compel you to run to your library to check out the books he’s mentioned. This isn’t book review for the erudite, but reviews for the reader of pleasure. This is not to say the books reviewed are fluff, but Hornby brings to his reviews the joy of reading and how that process is intertwined within our lives.
I would never consider reading a biography of Montaigne but after reading Hornby’s review of Sarah Bakewell’s biography of Montaigne, I was impelled to look up a few essays by him. Hornby’s take on Montaigne’s invention of the personal essay: “How many other people can you think of who created an entire literary form? Indeed, how many people con you think of who created any cultural idiom? James Brown, maybe; before “Papa’s Got a Brand new Bag” there was no funk; and then, suddenly, there it was. Well, Montaigne was the James Brown of the 1580s.” Hornby points out Montaigne’s not dated, “Montaigne invented the personal essay like someone invented the wheel. Why he’s still read now is not because he was the first, but because he remains fresh, and his agonized agnosticism, his endearing fumbles in the dark” remind us that we don’t really have a clue about anything. But Shakespeare got a clue from Montaigne’s self reflective essays; to be or not to be indeed, Hamlet.
I’m amazed at how Hornby can pull out lost books, resurrecting them within reviews of other books. “Next” by James Hynes will be put on my library holds list because as Hornby says, “Hynes writes with the sort of knowing, culturally precise, motor-mouthed internal chatter that brings to mind David Gates’s two monumental novels, “Jernigan” and Preston Falls”, and I can think of no greater recommendation: Hynes and Gates populate their books with men I recognize. They’re not the intimidatingly brainy, and, to me, alienating creatures you find in Great American Novels by Great American Novelists. there’s less rage, more doubt, more regret. . . .” “Jernigan” is one of those novels that more people should have read; hopefully, now they will.
Collections like this are valuable not only for the books reviewed but for the books they tie into and revive. What excites with reading a great book should also kick in remembrances of other books and all’s the better for that.