High Fidelity by Nick Hornby:
This is such a guy's book. I was reading it at the swimming pool, and I felt very self-aware: the title, the manly colors, the big picture of John Cusack on the front (the novel inspired the movie by the same name). I couldn't help but wonder: if a guy reads chick-lit, does he feel this self-conscious?
Now, I'm not one to judge a book by its cover (sorry - I couldn't resist). But this book is really all-male. One of the quotes on the back cover (I promise, we will get past the cover, here in a moment) is the following: "keep this book away from your girlfriend - it contains too many of your secrets to let it fall into the wrong hands." And that's a pretty accurate description of what you'll find inside: a look inside the male mind. Sadly, an alternate title for the book, and thus the movie, might have been Men Behaving Badly, but alas, that one is already taken and besides, in this case it's not Men, but rather Man - our 1st person narrator, Rob.
Rob has done some pretty bad things, and he's not afraid to tell us all about them. Usually he gives us important information in a Top-5 list format, and this one's no exception. I almost stopped reading when I read the top bad things he's done in a relationship - they are very, very bad indeed. It took me the whole book to realize - I just don't really like Rob. He does lots of bad stuff and is a crummy person to everyone in his life, yet we, lucky readers, get to hear all the details on why he does all these bad things. At great length.
So why did I keep reading? Nick Hornby, that's why.
He's a great writer, and this was actually his first book. I really liked About a Boy, and somewhat liked A Long Way Down....of course I had to check out his first, and probably most popular, book. And again, his writing doesn't disappoint. "My friends don't seem to be friends at all but people whose phone numbers I haven't lost." Here's another interesting one: "What really matters is what you like, not what you are like........it's no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently, or if your favorite films wouldn't even speak to each other if they met at a party." Interesting idea, and I gave it some thought. Rob thinks about this too, and towards the end of the novel tells us that "I have to confess (but only to myself, obviously) that maybe, given the right set of peculiar, freakish, probably unrepeatable circumstances, it's not what you like but what you're like that's important." Maybe there is hope for Rob, maybe he is capable of growing up.
I should probably mention what the story is about (besides Rob's endless musings). Rob is 35 years old, runs a failing record shop with two employees, Barry and Dick, and is newly single thanks to his long term girlfriend leaving him for their former neighbor, Ian. He knows everything about music, although he admits that he's starting to be out of touch with the music scene. The novel begins with Rob reflecting on the first 5 girls (yes, we start with a list) who broke his heart, and launches into countless internal dialogue about whatever happens to be on Rob's mind - women, records, life's failures, you name it.
So, being inside Rob's head is an interesting, 323 page place. There are some great insights to be found, moments where this character is trying to make sense of his self and figure out how to improve. There are also a lot of moments where Rob is just trying to justify his bad behavior. Getting to know this flawed character might not be for every reader, and you certainly might not like him in the end, but you might come away with a new perspective - a man's perspective.