May 2010

Stuff I’ve Been Reading

A monthly column

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • Austerity Britain, 1945–51—David Kynaston
  • American Rust—Philipp Meyer
  • Puzzled People: A Study in Popular Attitudes to Religion, Ethics, Progress and Politics in a London Borough, Prepared for the Ethical Union—Mass Observation
  • The British Worker—Ferdynand Zweig

BOOKS READ:

  • One third of Austerity Britain, 1945–51—David Kynaston
  • Red Plenty—Francis Spufford
  • American Rust—Philipp Meyer

It’s never easy, returning home after failing to make one’s way out in the world. When I left these pages in 2008, it was very much in the spirit of “Good-bye, nerdy losers! I’m not wasting any more time ploughing through books on your behalf! I have things to do, places to go, people to see!” Ah, well. What can you do, if the people don’t want to be seen? I have now become that pathetic modern phenomenon you might have read about, the boomerang child—the kid who struts off (typically and unwisely with middle finger raised), spends a couple of years screwing up some lowly job on a magazine or in a bank, and then comes back, tail between his legs, to reclaim his old bedroom and wonder how come his parents have more fun than he on a Saturday night.

“What’s a parent to do?” bewails a terrifying (for me) article dealing with this very issue on the website eHow.com. “It’s hard to turn your children away. The best thing a parent can do is help them understand that they are adults now and the rules have changed.” The new rules for parents, the piece goes on to say, should include charging rent and refusing to buy toiletries and other incidentals. I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up getting my own way on the incidental toiletries, should it come to that. It’s pretty hot here at Believer Towers, and I suspect that the Polysyllabic Spree, the 115 dead-eyed but fragrant people who edit this magazine, will cave in long before I do. Still. It wasn’t what I expected when I left: that eighteen months later, I’d be working for free deodorant. What’s particularly humiliating in my case is that, unlike most boomerang children, I’m considerably older than those who have taken me back in. They’re not as young as they were, the Spree, but even so.

I have decided to vent my spleen by embarking on a series of books that, I hope, will be of no interest whatsoever to the readership of this magazine. David Kynaston’s superlative Austerity Britain is more than six hundred pages long and deals with just six years, 1945–51, in the life of my country. The second volume in the series, Family Britain, 1951–57, has already been published, so I plan to move on to that next; Kynaston is going to take us through to Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979, and I’m warning you now that I plan to read every single word, and write about them in great detail in this column.

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.

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