If Nick Hornby would just answer my calls, then I could propose. We both have spouses, but perhaps some accommodation can be made. This man has written three of my favorite novels (High Fidelity, About and Boy and Juliet, Naked) and the screenplay to An Education. This embarrassment of riches would all be enough for me, BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. Each month for the last several years, he has written a column for the San Francisco-based magazine The Believer, a McSweeney’s publication.* “Stuff I’ve Been Reading,” is collected in a series of consistently excellent volumes: The Polysyllabic Spree, Housekeeping Versus the Dirt, Shakespeare Wrote for Money and More Baths Less Talking.
I am currently reading More Baths Less Talking, and I could rhapsodize without ceasing, but I don’t know if you want to read a post about a book about books because you would probably rather be reading actual books. Or perhaps not. You see, I find that after reading Hornby’s columns, I almost never read the books he writes about. I don’t feel that I have to. I have benefitted from his thoughtful, intelligent reflections. I have wept with him over the pathos and chuckled at the cleverness and well, why spoil it? My husband – that pesky impediment to my nuptials with Hornby – told me this is a common phenomenon: a person reads a book review, feels they can discourse knowingly about the book reviewed, offers witty and insightful references to it amongst friends and strangers and eventually adds the title to their personal list of books read.
Each of Hornby’s columns begins with a list of Books Bought and Books Read. These categories may overlap partially, or not at all. He reads books I probably never will (and not just because I don’t have to, now that he has read them for me). Titles such as: Austerity Britain 1945-51, The Conversations; Walter Murch and the art of editing film – books like these are far afield for me. Hornby also reviews a great deal of fiction, classic and contemporary.
Just a word about Hornby’s own fiction: at times he may be a bit raw for me, though not for most people. But he is better than almost everyone (yes, you heard me) at creating flawed/lovable characters. A lot of writers create flawed, despicable characters and wonderful, lovable characters and there’s a place for all that. But Hornby surprises me, always, with who he is able to make me fond of. That shallow nothing of a main character, Will, in About a Boy? I love him. That womanizing, aging rock star, Tucker, in Juliet, Naked? I love him, too. Usually, these are the kinds of guys I make a habit of not loving. And all his novels and columns make me laugh, hard. I think Hornby has a gift for making us happy with intelligent humor. I know that “naked-guy-leaping-from-trunk” scene in The Hangover was funny, but laughing at Nick Hornby will make you happy and smart.
Do not miss this: Ten Years in the Tub: Collected Columns, 2003-2013
*The headquarters of McSweeney’s are in the Mission district, and have been, in years passed, housed behind “San Francisco’s only independent pirate supply store.” This shop has everything you need for swash-buckling and shivering your timbers – except cutlasses, because children’s writing groups meet there. I found myself there once, and as I was browsing the hand-replacement hooks and contemplating a perfume called “Buxom,” the sales clerk asked me if I wanted to thumb wrestle. Besides doing a brisk business in eye patches, McSweeney’s is responsible for ScholarMatch, whose mission is to connect under-resourced students with donors.