STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • Hangover Square—Patrick Hamilton
  • The Long Firm—Jake Arnott
  • American Sucker—David Denby

BOOKS READ:

  • Hangover Square—Patrick Hamilton
  • The Long Firm—Jake Arnott
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time— Mark Haddon
  • True Notebooks—Mark Salzman

Last month I was banging on about how books were better than anything—how just about any decent book you picked would beat up anything else, any film or painting or piece of music, you cared to match it up with. Anyway, like most theories advanced in this column, it turned out to be utter rubbish. I read four really good books this month, but even so, my cultural highlights of the last four weeks were not literary. I went to a couple of terrific exhibitions at the Royal Academy (and that’s a hole in my argument right there—one book might beat up one painting, but what chance has one book, or even four books, got against the collected works of Guston and Vuillard?); I saw Jose Antonio Reyes score his first goal for Arsenal against Chelsea, a thirty-yard screamer, right in the top corner; and someone sent me a superlative Springsteen bootleg, a ’75 show at the Main Point in Bryn Mawr with strings, and a cover of “I Want You,” and I don’t know what else. Like I said, I loved the books that I read this month, but when that Reyes shot hit the back of the net, I was four feet in the air. (The Polysyllabic Spree hates sport, especially soccer, because it requires people to expose their arms and legs, and the Spree believes that all body parts must be covered at all times. So even though I’m not allowed to talk about Reyes at any length, he does look to be some player.) Anyway, Patrick Hamilton didn’t even get me to move my feet. I just sat there—lay there, most of the time—throughout the whole thing. So there we are, then. Books: pretty good, but not as good as other stuff, like goals, or bootlegs.

I spent a long time resisting The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time because I got sent about fifteen copies, by publishers and agents and magazines and newspapers, and it made me recalcitrant and reluctant, truculent, maybe even perverse. I got sent fifteen copies because the narrator of The Curious Incident has Asperger’s syndrome, which places him on the autistic spectrum, although way over the other side from my son. I can see why publishers do this, but the books that arrive in the post tend to be a distorted and somewhat unappetizing version of one’s life and work. And what one wants to read, most of the time, is something that bears no reference to one’s life and work.

(Twice this week I have been sent manuscripts of books that remind their editors, according to their covering letters, of my writing. Like a lot of writers, I can’t really stand my own writing, in the same way that I don’t really like my own cooking. And, just as when I go out to eat, I tend not to order my signature dish—an overcooked and overspiced meat-stewy thing containing something inappropriate, like tinned peaches, and a side order of undercooked and flavorless vegetables—I really don’t want to read anything that I could have come up with at my own computer. What I produce on my computer invariably turns out to be an equivalent of the undercooked overcooked stewy thing, no matter how hard I try to follow the recipe, and you really don’t want to eat too much of that. I’d love to be sent a book with an accompanying letter that said, “This is nothing like your work. But as a man of taste and discernment, we think you’ll love it anyway.” That never happens.)

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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