STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

THE SECOND INSTALLMENT OF A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates—Blake Bailey
  • Notes on a Scandal—Zoë Heller (released in the U.S. as What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal)

BOOKS READ:

  • Being John McEnroe—Tim Adams
  • Stop-Time—Frank Conroy
  • The Fortress of Solitude—Jonathan Lethem
  • Desperate Characters—Paula Fox
  • Notes on a Scandal—Zoë Heller
  • Where You’re At—Patrick Neate
  • Feel Like Going Home—Peter Guralnick
  • The People’s Music—Ian MacDonald
  • A Tragic Honesty—Blake Bailey (unfinished)
  • How to Stop Smoking and Stay Stopped for Good—Gillian Riley
  • Quitting Smoking—The Lazy Person’s Guide!—Gillian Riley

If you write books—or a certain kind of book, anyway—you can’t resist a scan round the hotel swimming pool when you go on holiday. You just can’t help yourself, despite the odds: You need to know, straight off, whether anyone is reading one of yours. You imagine spending your days under a parasol watching, transfixed and humbled, as a beautiful and intelligent young man or woman, almost certainly a future best friend, maybe even spouse, weeps and guffaws through three hundred pages of your brilliant prose, too absorbed even to go for a swim, or take a sip of Evian. I was cured of this particular fantasy a couple of years ago, when I spent a week watching a woman on the other side of the pool reading my first novel, High Fidelity. Unfortunately, however, I was on holiday with my sister and brother-in-law, and my brother-in-law provided a gleeful and frankly unfraternal running commentary. “Look! Her lips are moving.” “Ha! She’s fallen asleep! Again!” “I talked to her in the bar last night. Not a bright woman, I’m afraid.” At one point, alarmingly, she dropped the book and ran off. “She’s gone to put out her eyes!” my brother-in-law yelled triumphantly. I was glad when she’d finished it and moved on to Harry Potter or Dr Seuss or whatever else it was she’d packed.

I like to think that, once he’d recovered from the original aesthetic shock, Jonathan Lethem wouldn’t have winced too often if he’d watched me reading The Fortress of Solitude by the pool this month. I was pinned to my lounger, and my lips hardly moved at all. In fact, I was so determined to read his novel on holiday that the first half of the reading month started with a mess. It went something like, Being The John McEnroe Stop-Time Fortress of Solitude. I’d just started Tim Adams’s short book on McEnroe when an advance copy of Fortress came in the post, and I started reading that—but because it seemed so good, so much my kind of book, I wanted to save it, and I went back to the McEnroe. Except then the McEnroe turned out to be too short, and I’d finished it before the holiday started, so I needed something to fill in, which is why I reread Stop-Time. (And Stop-Time turned out to be too long, and I didn’t get onto Fortress until the third day of the seven-day holiday.)

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

Nick Hornby is the author of five books, most recently Songbook. He lives in north London, and wishes that Charles Dickens would hurry up and finish Edwin Drood.


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