STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • The Amateur Marriage—Anne Tyler
  • The Eclipse—Antonella Gambotto
  • The Complete Richard Hannay— John Buchan
  • Selected Letters—Gustave Flaubert
  • Vietnam-Perkasie—W. D. Ehrhart

BOOKS READ:

  • Some of Flaubert’s letters
  • Not Even Wrong—Paul Collins
  • How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World—Francis Wheen
  • Liar’s Poker—Michael Lewis
  • Some of Greenmantle—John Buchan
  • How to Give Up Smoking and Stay Stopped for Good—Gillian Riley

So this last month was, as I believe you people say, a bust. I had high hopes for it, too; it was Christmas-time in England, and I was intending to do a little holiday comfort reading—David Copperfield and a couple of John Buchan novels, say, while sipping an eggnog and heroically ploughing my way through some enormous animal carcass or other. I’ve been a father for ten years now, and not once have I been able to sit down and read several hundred pages of Dickens during the Christmas holidays. Why I thought it might be possible this year, now that I have twice as many children, is probably a question best discussed with an analyst: somewhere along the line, I have failed to take something on board. (Hey, great idea: if you have kids, give your partner reading vouchers next Christmas. Each voucher entitles the bearer to two hours’ reading-time while kids are awake. It might look like a cheapskate present, but parents will appreciate that it costs more in real terms than a Lamborghini.)

If I’m honest, however, it wasn’t just snot-nosed children who crawled between and all over me and Richard Hannay. One of the reasons I wanted to write this column, I think, is because I assumed that the cultural highlight of my month would arrive in book form, and that’s true, for probably eleven months of the year. Books are, let’s face it, better than everything else. If we played Cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go fifteen rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form had to offer, then books would win pretty much every time. Go on, try it. “The Magic Flute” v. Middlemarch? Middlemarch in six. “The Last Supper” v. Crime and Punishment? Fyodor on points. See? I mean, I don’t know how scientific this is, but it feels like the novels are walking it. You might get the occasional exception—“Blonde on Blonde” might mash up The Old Curiosity Shop, say, and I wouldn’t give much for Pale Fire’s chances against Citizen Kane. And every now and again you’d get a shock, because that happens in sport, so Back to the Future III might land a lucky punch on Rabbit, Run; but I’m still backing literature twenty-nine times out of thirty. Even if you love movies and music as much as you do books, it’s still, in any given four-week period, way, way more likely you’ll find a great book you haven’t read than a great movie you haven’t seen, or a great album you haven’t heard: the assiduous consumer will eventually exhaust movies and music. Sure, there will always be gaps and blind spots, but I’ve been watching and listening for a long time, and I’ll never again have the feeling everyone has with literature: that we can’t get through the good novels published in the last six months, let alone those published since publishing began. This month, however, the cultural highlight of the month was a rock and roll show—two shows, actually, one of which took place in a pub called the Fiddler’s Elbow in Kentish Town, North London. The Fiddler’s Elbow is not somewhere you would normally expect to find your most memorable drink of the month, let alone your most memorable spiritual moment, but there you go: God really is everywhere. Anyway, against all the odds, and even though they were fighting above their weight, these shows punched the books to the floor. And they were good books, too.

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.


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