Nick Hornby makes good use of his downtime. This year, when he wasn't working on one of two screenwriting jobs -- he's adapting Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius with D.V. DeVincentis and penning a romantic comedy with Emma Thompson -- the 45-year-old found time for Songbook (McSweeney's, $26), a collection of music-as-metaphor essays. With each chapter revolving around a specific song (Badly Drawn Boy's ''A Minor Incident,'' Led Zeppelin's ''Heartbreaker,'' etc.), Songbook is like a diary in mix-tape form -- just what you'd expect from the author of High Fidelity. -- Brian M. Raftery
HOW HE FINALLY CAME AROUND TO WRITING A MUSIC BOOK ''I've been working with other people [this year], and there have been so many kinds of hiatuses. I've always wanted people to write something like this, and I thought, Every time there's a break, I'm going to write another essay, and that was how it worked.'' ON SELECTING THE 31 SONGS ''I had some riffs that I wanted to get out, and the riffs chose the songs. It's not really a conventional book of music journalism; otherwise, there'd be 3,010 songs. I was looking for songs to pin them on, basically.'' WHY HE STOPPED BEING A MUSIC CRITIC FOR THE NEW YORKER ''I didn't expect it to be quite so depressing -- the sheer volume of junk that comes through. And the time difference as well; it's hard to play CDs down the phone half past 11 at night to a fact checker. You think, Maybe there are better ways to spend my evenings.'' ON ADAPTING GENIUS FOR THE BIG SCREEN ''Obviously, it's a pretty tough book. But, in some ways, it's very liberating. It doesn't have a straightforward narrative, [so] we can be left to our own devices and try to come up with things that work cinematically. It's difficult when it's so personal to somebody else, because we're just both so aware that we could cause offense. But Dave will tell us when we've overstepped the mark.'' DREAM JOB ''If there was a job where you sat at home and made a tape and gave it to someone, I'd like that.''