STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • Weetzie Bat—Francesca Lia Block
  • Necklace of Kisses—Francesca Lia Block
  • Holes—Louis Sachar
  • The World Made Straight—Ron Rash
  • Eagle Blue: A Team, A Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska —Michael D’Orso
  • Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin —Lawrence Weschler
  • A Disorder Peculiar to the Country—Ken Kalfus

BOOKS READ:

  • Weetzie Bat—Francesca Lia Block
  • Tom’s Midnight Garden—Philippa Pearce
  • The World Made Straight—Ron Rash
  • Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences —Lawrence Weschler

The story so far: I have written a young-adult novel, and on a trip to Washington, D.C., to promote it, I met a load of librarians and other assorted enthusiasts who introduced me to a magical new world that I knew nothing about. I really do feel as though I’ve walked through the back of a wardrobe into some parallel universe, peopled by amazing writers whom you never seem to read about on books pages, or who never come up in conversations with literary friends. (The truth, I suspect, is that these writers are frequently written about on books pages, and I have never bothered to read the reviews; come to think of it, they probably come up frequently in conversations with literary friends, and I have never bothered to listen to anything these friends say.)

It was in D.C. that I met David Almond, whose brilliant book Skellig started me off on this YA jag; and it was in D.C. that Francesca Lia Block’s Weetzie Bat, first published in 1989, was frequently cited as something that started something, although to begin with, I wasn’t sure what Weetzie Bat was, or even if the people talking about it were speaking in a language I understood, so I can’t, unfortunately, tell you what Weetzie Bat is responsible for. When I got home, I bought it from Amazon (it doesn’t seem to be available in the U.K.), and a few days later I received a very tiny paperback, 113 large-print pages long and about three inches high, and suspiciously, intimidatingly pink. Pink! And gold! The book is so short that you really don’t need to be seen with it on public transport, but I wouldn’t have cared anyway, because it’s beautiful, and I would have defended its honor against any football hooligan who wanted to snigger at me.

Weetzie Bat is, I suppose, about single mothers and AIDS and homosexuality and loneliness, but that’s like saying that “Desolation Row” is about Cinderella and Einstein and Bette Davis. And actually, when I was trying to recall the last time I was exposed to a mind this singular, it was Dylan’s book Chronicles that I thought of—not because Block thinks or writes in a similar way, and she certainly doesn’t write or think about similar things, but because this kind of originality in prose is very rare indeed. Most of the time we comprehend the imagination and intellect behind the novels we read, even when that intellect is more powerful than our own—you can admire and enjoy Philip Roth, for example, but I don’t believe that anyone has ever finished American Pastoral and thought, Where the hell did that come from? Weetzie Bat is not American Pastoral (and it’s not “Desolation Row”—or Great Expectations, while we’re at it), but it’s genuinely eccentric, and picking it up for the first time is like coming across a chocolate fountain in the middle of the desert. You might not feel like diving in, but you would certainly be curious about the decision-making process of the person who put it there.

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 lives in North London. His new novel for young adults, Slam, will be published in October, 2007.


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