STUFF I’VE BEEN READING

A MONTHLY COLUMN

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Provence—Martin Gayford
  • Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia—Roberto Saviano
  • Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature—John Mullan
  • Spike & Co.—Graham McCann
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation—M. T. Anderson
  • Flat Earth News—Nick Davies

BOOKS READ:

  • The Happiest Man in the World—Alec Wilkinson
  • Spike & Co.—Graham McCann
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—Junot Diaz
  • The Shadow Catcher—Marianne Wiggins

Last month, I wrote about stuff I’d been watching, and while I was writing about stuff I’d been watching, I was thinking about the stuff I wasn’t reading. I wasn’t not reading because of the watching; I was simply not reading. Or rather, I was simply not reading complete books. I tried, several times; I began Martin Gayford’s The Yellow House, about the nine weeks that Gauguin and van Gogh spent as roommates, and Matt Ridley’s Genome, and Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge, and Meg Wolitzer’s The Position, and Irmgard Keun’s Child of All Nations, and Roberto Saviano’s Gomorrah: Italy’s Other Mafia, and John Mullan’s Anonymity, and I read a couple of entries in Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia, and nothing took. None of this, of course, is the fault of these fine authors or their almost certainly brilliant work. I was just itchy and scratchy and probably crusty, too, and I began to wonder whether I had simply lost the habit—the skill, even—of reading. I was beginning to feel that this one long, pained explanation would have to serve as my last in this space, which I would then simply hand over to someone young enough to plow all the way through to the end, or at least the middle, of anything they start. (Although isn’t that supposed to be one of the problems with young people? That their brains have been so rotted by Internet pornography and Nintendo that they are physically incapable of reading anything longer than a cereal packet? Maybe I will prove impossible to replace, and as long as I read a few opening paragraphs every month, this gig is mine forever.) At least I have some facts at my disposal. Did you know that if you wrote out the human genome, one letter per millimeter, the text would be as long as the river Danube? Did you know that the most expensive living artist in 1876 was Meissonier, one of whose paintings went for nearly four hundred thousand francs? These are two of the many things I’ve learned by reading the beginnings of this month’s books. I am beginning to think that this new regime will be ideal for my dotage. I can read the beginnings of a few books, sit at the bar at my local and regale people with fascinating nuggets of information. How can I fail to make friends if I know how long the human genome is?

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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