STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • Sleep Towards Heaven—Amanda Eyre Ward
  • Dr Seuss: American Icon—Philip Nel

BOOKS READ:

  • In Cold Blood—Truman Capote
  • A Cold Case—Philip Gourevitch
  • Like A Rolling Stone—Greil Marcus
  • How To Be Lost—Amanda Eyre Ward

Earlier today I was in a bookstore, and I picked up a new book about the migration patterns of the peregrine falcon. For a moment, I ached to buy it—or rather, I ached to be the kind of person who would buy it, read it, and learn something from it. I mean, obviously I could have bought it, but I could also have taken the fifteen pounds from my pocket and eaten it, right in the middle of Borders, and there seemed just as much point in the latter course of action as the former. (And before anyone gets on at me about Borders, I should point out that the last independent bookshop in Islington, home of the chattering literary classes, closed down a couple of weeks ago.)

I don’t know what it was about, the peregrine falcon thing. That’s some kind of bird, right? Well, I’ve only read one book about a bird before, Barry Hines’s heartbreaking A Kestrel for a Knave, later retitled Kes to tie in with Ken Loach’s film adaptation of that name. (You, dear reader, are much more likely to have read Jonathan Livingston Seagull than Kes, I suspect, and our respective tastes in bird books reveal something fundamental about our cultures. An Amazon reviewer describes Jonathan Livingston Seagull as “a charming allegory with a very pertinent message: DON’T ABANDON YOUR DREAMS.” I would not be traducing the message of Kes if I were to summarize it thus: ABANDON YOUR DREAMS. In fact, “ABANDON YOUR DREAMS” is a pretty handy summary of the whole of contemporary English culture—of the country itself, even. It would be great to be you, sometimes. I mean, obviously our motto is more truthful than yours, and ultimately more useful, but there used to be great piles of Kes in every high-school stock room. You’d think they’d let us reach the age of sixteen or so before telling us that life is shit. I read Hines’s book because it was a work of literature, however, not because it was a book about a bird. And maybe this book will turn out to be a work of literature, too, and a million people will tell me to read it, and it will win tons of prizes, and eventually I’ll succumb, but by then, it will have lost the allure it seemed to have this afternoon when it promised to be the kind of book I don’t usually open. I’m always reading works of bloody literature; I’m never reading about migration patterns.

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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