NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2007

STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • The Pigman—Paul Zindel
  • The Bethlehem Murders—Matt Rees
  • The Dud Avocado—Elaine Dundy
  • Singled Out—Virginia Nicholson

BOOKS READ:

  • Holes—Louis Sachar
  • The Fall-Out: How a Guilty Liberal Lost His Innocence—Andrew Anthony
  • A Disorder Peculiar to the Country—Ken Kalfus
  • Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees: A Life of Contemporary Artist Robert Irwin —Lawrence Weschler (unfinished)
  • Bridge of Sighs—Richard Russo (unfinished)

Weirdly, I have had sackfuls of letters from Believer readers recently asking me—begging me—to imagine my reading month as a cake. I can only imagine that young people in America find things easier to picture if they are depicted in some kind of edible form, and, though one cannot help but find this troubling, in the end I value literacy more highly than health; if our two countries were full of fat readers, rather than millions of Victoria Beckhams, then we would all be better off.

As luck would have it, this was the perfect month to institute the cake analogies. The reading cake divided neatly in half, with Andrew Anthony’s The Fall-Out and Ken Kalfus’s A Disorder Peculiar to the Country, both inspired by 9/11, on one plate, and Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs and Lawrence Weschler’s biography of the artist Robert Irwin on the other. Louis Sachar’s Holes, meanwhile, is a kind of nonattributable, indivisible cherry on the top. There. Happy now? I’m warning you: it might not work that satisfactorily every month.

Andrew Anthony is a former five-a-side football teammate of mine (he still plays, but my hamstrings have forced me into a tragically premature retirement), a leggy, tough-tackling midfielder whose previous book was a little meditation on penalty kicks. I’m not underestimating Andy’s talent when I say that this book is a top-corner thirty-yard volley out of the blue; you’re always surprised, I suspect, when someone you know chiefly through sport produces a timely, pertinent, and brilliantly argued book about the crisis in left-liberalism, unless you share a season ticket with Noam Chomsky, or Eric Hobsbawm is your goalkeeper.

Anthony (and if he wants a future in this business, he’s got to get himself a surname) is a few years younger than I, but we have more or less the same political memories and touchstones: the miners’ strike in the mid-’80s, the earnest discussions about feminism that took place around the same time, the unexamined assumption that the U.S.A. was just as much an enemy of freedom as the Soviet Union. Liberalism was a dirty word, just as it is in your country now, but in our case it was because liberals were softies who didn’t want to smash the State. As Anthony points out, we would have been in a right state if anyone had smashed the State—most of us were dependent on the university grants or the dole money that the State gave us, but never mind. We wanted it gone. These views were commonplace among students and graduates in the 1980s; there were at least as many people who wanted to smash the State as there were people who wanted to listen to Haircut 100.

Anthony took it further than most. He read a lot of unreadable Marxist pamphlets, and went to Nicaragua to help out the Sandinistas. (I would have gone, but what with one thing and another, the decade just seemed to slip by. And also: I know this keeps coming up, but what are you supposed to do when there’s a revolution on and you’re a season-ticket holder at a football club? Just, like, not go to the games?) He also had it tougher than most: Anthony was a working-class boy whose early childhood was spent in a house without a bath or an indoor toilet—a common enough experience in the Britain of the 1930s and ’40s, much rarer in the ’60s and ’70s. The things you learn about your friends when they write memoirs, eh? He had every right to sign up for a bit of class warfare. In the wearyingly inevitable name-calling that has accompanied the publication of his book, he has been called a “middle-class twat.”

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 most recent book is Slam, a novel for young adults.


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