STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • Deception—Philip Roth
  • Wonder Boys—Michael Chabon
  • The Essential Tales of Chekhov
  • Ward No. 6 and Other Stories, 1892–1895—Anton Chekhov
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories—Leo Tolstoy

BOOKS READ:

  • On and Off the Field—Ed Smith
  • A Life in Letters—Anton Chekhov
  • Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey—Janet Malcolm
  • Oh, Play That Thing—Roddy Doyle

I have been meaning to read a book about cricket for awhile, with the sole intention of annoying you all. I even toyed with the idea of reading only cricket books this entire month, but then I realized that this would make it too easy for you to skip the whole column; this way, you have to wade through the cricket to get to the Chekhov and the Roddy Doyle. I’m presuming here that very few of you have ever seen a cricket match, and if you have, you are almost certain to have been both mystified and stupefied: this, after all, is a game which, in its purest form (there are all sorts of cheap-thrills bastardized versions now), lasts for five days and very frequently ends in a tie: five days is not quite long enough to get through everything that needs doing in a cricket match, especially as you can’t play in the rain.

The funny thing is that we actually do like cricket here in England—it’s not some hey-nonny-no phony heritage thing, like Morris dancing (horrific bearded men with sticks and bells), or cream teas. Thirty or forty years ago it was our equivalent of baseball, an all-consuming summer sport that drove football off the back pages of newspapers completely for three months; now Beckham and the rest of them get the headlines even when they’re lying on Caribbean beaches. But big international matches still sell out, and every now and again the England team starts winning, and we renew our interest.

Ed Smith reminds traditionalists of a time when cricketers were divided into two camps, “Gentlemen” and “Players”; the former were private-school boys and university graduates from upper-middle-class backgrounds, the latter horny-handed professionals who weren’t even allowed to share a dressing room with their social betters. Smith is a Cambridge graduate who reviews fiction for one of the broadsheet newspapers. He’s also good-looking, well-spoken, articulate, and he has played for England, so perhaps not surprisingly, On and Off the Field, his diary of a season, attracted a fair bit of attention, all of it, as far as I can tell, admiring. Where’s the fairness in that? You’d think that if critics had any use at all, it would be to give our golden boys and girls a fearsome bashing, but of course you can’t even rely on them for that.

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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