This is the first post in a new blog series – my favorite books. They’re meant to be a companion to my book reviews, but instead of trying to convince you to read a book that I liked, these posts will explain why my favorite books are my favorites.
Basically, it’s an excuse for me to re-read books that I’ve already read countless times.
There’s no better book with which to begin than Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. I read it for the first time in 2008 when I was 21, A.K.A. my formative years.
On the surface, High Fidelity is about a guy and his relationship, but deep down, it’s about the ephemera of pop culture. It’s about how we choose music and movies and books that speak to us and decide that the things we like are indicative of what kind of people we are.
Why I liked it then
The protagonist Rob and his friends spend countless hours making lists of their top fives: top five songs about death, top five movies, etc. As a college student, I was obsessed with keeping my myspace and Facebook pages updated with my favorites books, movies, and music, so that my friends could keep up with my evolving tastes in pop culture and thus, I thought, with my evolution.
At one point in the novel, when Rob meets a new girl, he says “what really matters is what you like, not what you are like,” and describes making a questionnaire for prospective partners to make sure that they were on the same page about music/movies/TV/books before getting involved. “The truth was,” he says, “that these things matter, and it’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently, or if your favorite films wouldn’t speak to each other if they met at a party.”
I related so much to Rob at that first read-thorugh because of this world-view. Like Rob, I didn’t really understand how to relate to other people if we weren’t talking about movies that had come out recently or weren’t comparing lists of favorite books.
Why it still speaks to me now
Re-reading High Fidelity in 2014, what resonated with me was Rob’s long-term relationship with his girlfriend, Laura. On page one, they’ve just broken up, and over the course of the book, Rob considers their relationship and a reconciliation.
This is probably because Joel’s and my first wedding anniversary is right around the corner and I’m feeling sentimental. But even knowing what would happen at the end, I was really moved by Rob’s introspection about what went wrong in their relationship.
I know that people like it, and it’s definitely not a bad movie, but it lacks the depth of the book.
The Publisher’s Weekly review says High Fidelity “is not quite as hip as it wishes to be” and I think that’s a fair statement. Also, re-reading it nearly 20 years after it was originally published, I’m not sure it holds up. But that might be a bit of a cultural divide, as I’m not exactly an expert on British cultural references from 20 years ago.
I’ll wrap this post up by telling you that it had been about four years since I last read this novel, and there was a little part of me that thought “wait, why did I like this book?” which really surprised me. I think that a major reason I’ve counted it among my favorite books for so long was because I believed that liking this book said something about who I am as a person.
In the ensuing years, I’ve kind of stopped caring about creating lists of favorites, and expecting my friends to have the same taste in music or books as I do. I kind of assumed that I would relate to Rob’s growth in the book more because of that, but actually, it made me like the character less.
But I will continue to count it among my favorite books, mostly because I have for so long that I’m not really ready to give up on it.