STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • 20,000 Streets Under the Sky—Patrick Hamilton
  • Unnamed Literary Novel—Anonymous
  • The Letters of Charles Dickens, Vol. 1
  • Through a Glass Darkly: The Life of Patrick Hamilton—Nigel Jones

BOOKS READ:

  • The Midnight Bell—Patrick Hamilton
  • Blockbuster—Tom Shone
  • We’re in Trouble—Chris Coake
  • Literary novel (unfinished)
  • Biography (unfinished)

Twelve months! A whole year! I don’t think I’ve ever held down a job for this long. And I have to say that when I first met the Polysyllabic Spree, the eighty-four chillingly ecstatic young men and women who run this magazine, I really couldn’t imagine contributing one column, let alone a dozen. The Spree all live together in Believer Towers, high up in the hills somewhere; they spend their days reading Montaigne’s essays aloud to each other (and laughing ostentatiously at the funny bits), shooting at people who own TV sets, and mourning the deaths of every single writer since the Gawain-Poet, in chronological order. When I first met them, they’d got up to Gerard Manley Hopkins. (They seemed particularly cut up about him. It may have been the Jesuit thing, kindred spirits and all that.) I was impressed by their seriousness and their progressive sexual relationships, but they really didn’t seem like my kind of people.

And yet here we are, still. I’m beginning to see through the white robes to the people beneath, as it were, and they’re really not so bad, once you get past the incense, the vegan food, and the communal showers. They’ve definitely taught me things: they’ve taught me, for example, that there is very little point in persisting with a book that isn’t working for me, and even less point in writing about it. In snarky old England, we’re used to working the other way around—we only finish books that aren’t working for us, and those are definitely the only ones we write about. Anyway, as a consequence, my reading has become more focused and less chancy, and I no longer choose novels that I know in advance will make me groan, snort, and guffaw.

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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