STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • Gilead—Marilynne Robinson
  • The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup—Susan Orlean
  • Housekeeping—Marilynne Robinson*
  • You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination—Katherine Harmon
  • Babbitt—Sinclair Lewis
  • Between Silk and Cyanide—Leo Marks
  • Bartleby the Scrivener—Herman Melville
  • The Disappointment Artist—Jonathan Lethem
  • Wonderland—Michael Bamberger

* Bought twice—administrative error.

BOOKS READ:

  • Gilead—Marilynne Robinson
  • Little Scarlett—Walter Mosley
  • Noblesse Oblige—Nancy Mitford
  • Spies—Michael Frayn
  • The Amateur Marriage—Anne Tyler
  • Penguin Special—Jeremy Lewis
  • Hard News—Seth Mnookin
  • Jane Austen—Gill Hornby

A few months ago, I heard a pompous twit on a radio program objecting, bitterly and at some length, to Martin Amis’s Money being republished in the Penguin Modern Classic series. It couldn’t possibly be a classic, said the pompous twit, because we need fifty years to judge whether a book is a classic or not. It seemed to me that the twit’s argument could be summarized succinctly thus: “I don’t like Martin Amis’s Money very much,” because nothing else made much sense. (Presumably we’re not allowed to use the phrase “modern classic” about anything at all unless we wish to appear oxymoronic, even though in this context the word “classic” means, simply, “of the highest class.” The pompous twit seemed to be laboring under the misapprehension that a “classic” book is somehow related to classical music, and therefore has to be a bit old and a bit posh before it qualifies.) Do you have Penguin Modern Classics in your country? Over here, they used to mean a lot to young and pretentious lovers of literature. My friends and I used to make sure we had a PMC, with its distinctive light green spine, about our persons at all times, as an indication both of our intellectual seriousness and of our desire/willingness to sleep with girls who also liked books. It never worked, of course, but we lived in hope. Anyway, L’Étranger was a Penguin Modern Classic; I probably read it in 1974, thirty-odd years after it was published. And when I was talking embarrassing rubbish about Sartre to fellow seventeen-year-olds, La Nausee—another light green ’un—had been around for less than forty years. If the pompous twit’s fifty-year rule had been enforced when I was a teenager, I’d never have read either of them—we needed that green spine for validation—and as a consequence I’d be even more ill-educated than I am now.

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, most recently, of a novel entitled A Long Way Down.

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