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Book Review: 31 songs by Nick Hornby

So, after my re-read of High Fidelity, I found myself in a music reading mood. Enter 31 Songs, also by Nick Hornby.

31 Songs is a series of personal essays, through each song, Nick Hornby explains what music means to his life. A kind of long Desert Island disks if you will.

Man, Nick Hornby knows his music. I suspected as much having read High Fidelity, but still I’d probably underestimated just how much he knows and loves music.

It’s an incredibly personal book. Through music, Hornby takes us through his life, sharing memories and how each song made him feel. It’s a celebration of how each of these songs have made him feel.

It’s very introspective. It’s a soundtrack to his life and who he is.

“Sometimes, very occasionally, songs and books and films and pictures express who you are, perfectly. And they don’t do this in words or images, necessarily; the connection is a lot less direct and more complicated than that” Nick Hornby

We may have different musical tastes but that really didn’t matter. This book isn’t making a case for each song, it isn’t an exercise in making you love them; Hornby isn’t trying to convince readers of his musical superiority, there’s no pretension. What it does is describe how music can move us, transport us to certain time in our lives and the impact it can have on our lives.

A highlight for me, is where he discusses the musical tastes of his autistic son. It incapsulates the power of music in allowing us to communicate without words. How comforting our favourite songs can be how we can connect with each other through music. It really is an incredibly tender essay about a father’s love for his son.

Okay, it’s a bit of a dry read in places. There were times my attention wandered. It perhaps didn’t need 31 songs (20 might have been better). There were more than a couple of songs that I hadn’t bloody heard of, and I’m certainly not a Springsteen fan, but I stuck with it because his passion for music leapt off the page.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t know the songs or like them because it isn’t about these songs in particular. It’s more about a musical journey that any music can relate to.

I recognised how tastes change as we get older, how we perhaps become a bit more open to different genres.

As is typical with Hornby’s writing, it is funny and warm. It’s full of insight and relatable.

If you’re a music lover, I’d recommend giving this one a go. There’ll be parts that you’ll nod along with. It’ll get you thinking about your own musical journey, your favourite songs – both of which, will remind you of different times in your life and spark hundreds and hundreds of treasured, special memories.


The songs…

Teenage Fanclub “Your Love is the place where I come from”.

Bruce Springsteen “Thunder Road”.

Nelly Furtado “I’m like a bird”.

Led Zeppelin “Heartbreaker”.

Rufus Wainwright “One Man Guy”.

Santana “Samba Pa Ti”.

Rod Stewart “Mamma, you been on my mind”.

Bob Dylan “Can you please crawl out your window”.

The Beatles “Rain”.

Ani DiFranco “You had time”

Aimee Mann “I’ve had it”.

Paul Westerberg “Born for me”.

Suicide “Frankie teardrop”.

Teenage Fanclub “Ain’t that enough”.

The J Geils Band “First I look at the purse”

Ben Folds Five “Smoke”.

Badly Drawn Boy “A minor incident”.

The Bible “Glorybound”.

Van Morrison “Caravan”.

Butch Hancock and Marce LaCoutre “So I’ll run”.

Gregory Isaacs “Puff the magic dragon”.

Ian Dury and the Blockheads “Reasons to be cheerful, part 3”.

Richard and Linda Thompson “Calvary Cross”.

Jackson Browne “Late for the Sky”.

The Velvelettes “Needle in a Haystack’.

Röyksopp “Röyksopp’s night out”.

The Avalanches “Frontier Psychiatrist”.

Soulwax “No Fub/Puch It”.

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

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