STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • Eustace and Hilda—L. P. Hartley
  • Moondust—Andrew Smith
  • Darkness Falls from the Air—Nigel Balchin
  • 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare—James Shapiro

BOOKS READ:

  • The Dirt—Mötley Crüe
  • The Shrimp and the Anemone—L. P. Hartley
  • The Poet—Michael Connelly
  • Then We Came To The End—Joshua Ferris

“Character is fate.” Discuss with reference to Eustace Cherrington in The Shrimp and the Anemone and Nikki Sixx in The Dirt.

(It occurred to me that with the exam season coming up, younger readers might actually prefer this format for the column. I don’t know how many of you are studying L. P. Hartley’s The Shrimp and the Anemone in conjunction with The Dirt—probably not many. But even if it’s only a couple of hundred, I’ll feel as though I’ve provided some kind of public service. Please feel free to lift as much of the following as you need.)

In many ways, Eustace Cherrington—the younger half of the brother-sister combo in Hartley’s Eustace and Hilda trilogy—and Nikki Sixx, the Crüe’s bass player, are very different people. Eustace is a young boy, and Nikki Sixx is a grown man; Eustace is English, middle-class, and fictional, and Nikki Sixx is working-class, American, and (according to the internet at least) a real person. The Shrimp and the Anemone is a very beautiful novel, full of delicate people and filigree observation, whereas The Dirt is possibly the ugliest book ever written. And yet Eustace and Nikki Sixx both, each in their own ways, somehow manage to disprove Heraclitus’s maxim—or at any rate, they demand its modification. Both Hartley’s novel and the Crüe bio remind us it’s not character but constitution that determine our destinies. Eustace is, let’s face it, a weed and a wuss. He’s got a weak heart, so he can’t go out much, and when he eventually steels himself to take part in a paper chase with the delectable but destructive Nancy, he collapses with exhaustion and takes to his sickbed for months. Nikki Sixx, however, is made of sterner stuff. When he ODs on heroin in L.A. and nearly dies—a journalist phones one of his bandmates for an obituary—what does he do? He gets home, pulls a lump of heroin out of the medicine cabinet, and ODs again. Thus we can see that Nikki Sixx and Eustace Cherrington live the lives that their bodies allow them to live. Nothing really matters, apart from this. Why do some of us read a lot of books and watch a lot of TV instead of play in Mötley Crüe? Because we haven’t got the stomachs for it. It’s as simple as 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, most recently, of a novel titled A Long Way Down.


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