Dickens and Prince: A Particular Kind of Genius

Nick Hornby (Funny Girl; Ten Years in the Tub; High Fidelity) may be better known for novels, but he's published nonfiction accounts of several of his passions, including soccer (Fever Pitch), music (Songbook) and reading (More Baths Less Talking). His exuberant biographical essay, Dickens and Prince, draws unexpected connections between two of his heroes in a paean to energy and imagination. Victorian novelist, recent pop star: What gives? Ultimately, Hornby admits he picked these figures because of personal predilection: they are chief among what he calls "My People... the artists who have shaped me, inspired me, made me think about my own work." However, he does make a convincing case for Charles Dickens and Prince Rogers Nelson being spiritual twins: both came from poverty, skyrocketed to fame in their 20s, were astoundingly prolific--and workaholic--artists, valued performance (readings and concerts) perhaps more highly than finished products, felt the industry was cheating them, had a weakness for women and died at a similar age (58 for Dickens; 57 for Prince).

Dickens wrote millions of words; at his death by accidental overdose, Prince left thousands of unreleased songs in a vault. Hornby argues that their single-mindedness and abundant creativity mark Dickens and Prince as "sui generis." For each, there was "no off switch" and no time for perfectionism. It was always on to the next project (or three, often overlapping).

Biographical research shares the page with shrewd cultural commentary as well as glimpses of Hornby's writing life. Whether a fan of both subjects, either or none, you'll surely admire these geniuses' vitality, too. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

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