STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • Case Histories—Kate Atkinson
  • The Crocodile Bird—Ruth Rendell
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold—John le Carré
  • Another Bullshit Night in Suck City—Nick Flynn
  • Help Us to Divorce—Amos Oz

BOOKS READ:

  • The Man on the Moon—Simon Bartram
  • Every Secret Thing—Laura Lippman
  • Help Us to Divorce—Amos Oz
  • Assassination Vacation—Sarah Vowell
  • Early Bird—Rodney Rothman

So this last month was, as I believe you people say, a bust. I had high hopes for it, too; it was Christmastime 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… wait a minute! I only just read David Copperfield! What the hell’s going on here?

Aha. I see what’s happened. In hoping to save myself some time by copying out the sentence that began this column a year ago, I neglected to change anything at all. If I’d substituted Barnaby Rudge for David Copperfield, say, I might have got away with it, but I couldn’t be bothered, and now I’m paying the price. A few months ago—back in the days when the Polysyllabic Spree used to tell me, repeatedly and cruelly, that they had commissioned research showing I had zero readers—I could have got away with repeating whole columns. But then, gloriously and unexpectedly, a reader wrote in [“Dear the Believer,” November, 2004] and the Spree had to eat their weasel words. My reader’s name is Caroline, and she actually plowed through Copperfield at my suggestion, and I love her with all my heart. I think it’s time to throw the question back at the Spree: so how many readers do you have, then?

Anyway, Caroline also responded to my recent plea for a list of thrillers that might make me walk into lampposts, which is how come I read Laura Lippman’s Every Secret Thing. I really liked it, although at the risk of alienating my reader at a very early stage in our relationship, I have to say that it didn’t make me walk into a lamppost. I’m not sure that it’s intended to be that propulsive: it’s gripping in a quiet, thoughtful way, and the motor it’s powered with equips the author to putter around the inside of her characters’ damaged minds, rather than to smash her reader headlong into an inert object. On Lippman’s thoughtful and engaging website—and there are two adjectives you don’t see attached to that particular noun very often—a reviewer compares Every Secret Thing to a Patricia Highsmith novel, and the comparison made sense to me: like Lippman, Highsmith wants to mess with your head without actually fracturing your skull. Every Secret Thing is an American-cheeseburger version of Highsmith’s bloody filet mignon, and that suited me fine.

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 The Polysyllabic Spree. He lives in North London.

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