STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:[1]

  • The Invisible Woman—Claire Tomalin
  • Y: The Last Man Vols 1–3—Vaughan, Guerra, Marzan Jr., Chadwick
  • I Never Liked You—Chester Brown
  • David Boring—Daniel Clowes
  • The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist—Michael Chabon et al
  • Safe Area Gorazde—Joe Sacco
  • Not Entitled—Frank Kermode

BOOKS READ:

  • Train—Pete Dexter
  • This Is Serbia Calling—Matthew Collin
  • The Invisible Woman—Claire Tomalin
  • Y: The Last Man Vols 1–3—Vaughan, Guerra, Marzan Jr., Chadwick
  • I Never Liked You—Chester Brown
  • David Boring—Daniel Clowes

If you wanted to draw a family tree of everything I read and bought this month—and you never know, it could be fun, if you’re a writer, say, or a student, and there are several large holes in your day—you’d have to put McSweeney’s 13 and Pete Dexter’s novel Train right at the top.[2] They’re the Adam and Eve here, or they would be if Adam and Eve had been hermaphrodites, each able to give birth independently of the other. McSweeney’s 13 and Train never actually mated to produce a beautiful synthesis of the two; and nor did any of the other books actually get together, either. So it would be a pretty linear family tree, to be honest: one straight line coming out of McSweeney’s 13, because McSweeney’s begat a bunch of graphic novels (McSweeney’s 13, edited by Chris Ware, is a comics issue, if you’re not from ’round these parts), and another straight line coming out of Train, which leads to a bunch of nonfiction books, for reasons I will come to later. Train didn’t directly beget anything, although it did plant some seeds. (I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Well, if Train and McSweeney’s 13 never actually mated, and if Train never directly begat anything, then how good is this whole family-tree thing? And my answer is, Oh, it’s good. Trust me. I have a writer’s instinct.) Anyway, if you do decide to draw the family tree, the good news is that it’s easy; the bad news is that it’s boring, pointless, and arguably makes no sense. Up to you.

Pete Dexter’s Train was carefully chosen to reintroduce me to the world of fiction, a world I have been frightened of visiting ever since I finished David Copperfield a couple of months back. I’ve read Dexter before—The Paperboy is a terrific novel—and the first couple of chapters of Train are engrossing, complicated, fresh, and real, and I really thought I was back on the fictional horse. But then, in the third chapter, there is an episode of horrific violence, graphically rendered, and suddenly I was no longer under the skin of the book, the way I had been; I was on the outside looking in. What happens is that in the process of being raped, the central female character gets her nipple sliced off, and it really upset me. I mean, I know I was supposed to get upset. But I was bothered way beyond function. I was bothered to the extent that I struck up a conversation with the author at periodic intervals thereafter. “Did the nipple really have to go, Pete? Explain to me why. Couldn’t it have just… nearly gone? Or maybe you could have left it alone altogether? I mean, come on, man. Her husband has just been brutally murdered. She’s been raped. We get the picture. Leave the nipple alone.”

  1. I bought so many books this month it’s obscene, and I’m not owning up to them all: this is a selection. And to be honest, I’ve been economical with the truth for months now. I keep finding books that I bought, didn’t read, and didn’t list.
  2. [We do indeed pay Nick Hornby to write his monthly column, but we didn’t pay him to mention McSweeney’s 13.—Ed.]

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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