Book Review: High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby

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If I had known that Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, by Nick HornbyHigh Fidelity was made into a movie starring John Cusack as the main character, I probably wouldn’t have read it, but I’m glad I did.

Sidenote 1: I really do live under a rock when it comes to movies, I had no idea this had been made into a movie 13 years ago.

Sidenote 2: Not really sure why I dislike John Cusack. He’s a fine actor, I just don’t care for the movies he’s in (except for Being John Malkovic, I like that one).

Anyway. Now that I know John Cusack was Rob, I can’t get that out of my head, but I did enjoy the book. High Fidelity is about a 3osomething music junkie named Rob who has just been dumped by his long-time, live-in girlfriend. He likes making lists, so a fair amount of the narrative is broken into, well, list-form. He rehashes previous relationships in lists, he assesses potential matches via their lists of favorite records and musicians, and he spends one particularly mopey night by reorganizing his extensive record collection in order of purchase. Just reading that bit made my spreadsheet-loving-heart go pitter patter.

I hadn’t read anything by Nick Hornby before High Fidelity, but I decided I was a fan of his writing style. It’s not quite stream-of-consciousness, but it’s conversational. Even though I didn’t understand half of the music references, that doesn’t detract from the story (I didn’t understand half of the music references in Gilmore Girls but it didn’t matter with the Gilmores either). While a fair amount of the book is about sex and relationships from a man’s point of view, it isn’t over-the-top and it doesn’t make me hate men the way I imagine reading Tucker Max would. And mixed in with all of the sadness and confused romance is a good deal of quotable insight.

Even though the characters in the story are all in their thirties, it still has the feel of a coming-of-age story. Rob has created his own destiny and now he has to deal with the consequences. He’s newly single with a dead-end job and a lack of interest in anything besides his music collection. It’s about time for him to get up, get out, and do something, and figure out what sort of purpose his life should have. It’s a struggle that many teenagers and 20somethings deal with, I feel like once a month I hear about another friend or friend-of-a-friend that’s dropping everything to start a new career, or moving across the country to get out of their comfort zone. Deep down past the sexual frustration and obscure music references, it’s downright relatable.

Favorite Quote:

“My friends don’t seem to be friends at all but people whose phone numbers I haven’t lost.”

All those pertinent details:

  • Title: High Fidelity
  • Author: Nick Hornby
  • Length: 323 pages (paperback)
  • Genre: fiction, humor, contemporary
  • Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Buy it on Amazon here.

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Book Review: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

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Wolf Hall, by Hilary MantelWhen I first picked up Wolf Hall, my eyes saw the words “Thomas Cromwell” but my brain saw “Oliver Cromwell”. That’s clearly not who Hilary Mantel is writing about, but being a proud Irish-American, my first thoughts were “ugh! I don’t want to read a book about the Lord Protector!” And then I saw the description, and realized that the book was about Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. Oops.

(As you can see, I’m not afraid to confess the occasional dumb moment. I like to think myself smart, and then I do things like that. Oh well.)

After reconciling with the Cromwell in question, I dove into Wolf Hall head first…and hit the bottom of the shallow end very quickly. I didn’t like it. The writing style was confusing, it was hard to tell who was speaking to whom, and it was hard to get a firm grasp on the historical elements right away. I’ll chalk part of this up to the fact that I just don’t know that much about Tudor England, although it’s a time in history I’d like to spend more time learning about. Perhaps if I knew who Cardinal Wolsey was right off the bat, for example, it would have been easier to engage in the story.

But, I try to give all but the worst books at least 50 pages, so I trudged on, and I’m glad I did.

Mantel is excellent at striking the right dramatic cord. This period in England was intense, and the Boleyn saga in general could read like a soap opera if done incorrectly. She maintained a good balance of drama, humor and brevity to keep from getting too melodramatic. There are a lot of characters, a lot of families, a lot of names. The handy list of characters at the beginning of the novel is a nice touch, but it helps that many of the characters are so clearly written, no matter how brief their time on the page is. It’s a testament to Cromwell’s personality (and the way Mantel has written it) that a book mainly written from his point-of-view can give such a clear picture of the motives and motivations of everyone else.

Wolf Hall is the first book in the Thomas Cromwell Trilogy, so I knew from the beginning that the saga would continue, even if this particular story was self-contained. The ending was neat and tidy, and even if the larger mess is still unfinished, the particular events in the last few chapters are a natural ending. I didn’t feel cheated, and while I enjoyed this book, I don’t plan on rearranging my to-be-read pile to put Bring Up the Bodies (the second in the trilogy) up at the top of my list.

Favorite Quote:

You learn nothing about men by snubbing them and crushing their pride. You must ask them what it is they can do in this world, that they alone can do.

All those pertinent details:

  • Title: Wolf Hall
  • Author: Hilary Mantel
  • Length: 532 (hardcover)
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 – if you like historical fiction or the Tudors, give it a read. If not, save it for a cold winter’s night. It’s not a beach book.

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