Songs and Portents


Songbook by Nick Hornby (2003): This is a dandy little book of short essays by the author of High Fidelity, Fever Pitch and About a Boy. Hornby takes 31 songs he likes and explains why he likes them, with music and autobiography pretty much running neck and neck throughout. There are a lot of observational gems that will work pretty well with anyone who loves music, especially pop music in all its forms.

For example, Hornby observes at one point that his tendency to listen to a new song he likes over and over again amounts to an attempt to “decode” the song — once the mystery has been solved, he can move on. My most recent foray int obsessive relistening was Arcade Fire’s “Ready to Start”, so I can relate, though unlike some people I’ve known, I generally don’t subject others to my repetitive song-solving. That would be cruel.

Hornby also notes that if someone’s favourite song is the song that was playing when some life-altering event occurred, that someone probably doesn’t like music that much. You like the songs for the songs; all the other stuff is secondary or perhaps even irrelevant in most cases. If you’ve ever spent uncounted hours trying to make perfect mixed tapes/CDs/playlists, you’ll understand a lot of what Hornby describes here. Highly recommended.

Shadows 7, edited by Charles L. Grant (1984): Grant’s Shadows series of original horror-fiction anthologies were one of the high points for readers of dark fantasy in the 1970’s and 1980’s, each one crammed full of fine short horror fiction by writers well-known and unknown. This volume seemed half-familiar to me, but that’s because at least half the stories herein have been anthologized elsewhere since their first appearance here.

Standouts include Tanith Lee’s subtle, tragic “Three Days”; Ramsey Campbell’s deceptively jolly take on the terrible boredom of watching other people’s slide shows of their travels abroad, “Seeing the World”; and Dennis Etchison’s cautionary tale about the dangers of meeting a writer one admires, “Talking to the Dark.” There are some minor stories here, but no duds. Highly recommended.

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