October 2010

Stuff I’ve Been Reading

A monthly column

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS READ:

  • Hard Rain Falling—Don Carpenter
  • The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film—Michael Ondaatje
  • Tinkers—Paul Harding

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin—Hampton Sides
  • The Broken Word—Adam Foulds
  • It Happened in Brooklyn: An Oral History of Growing Up in the Borough in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s—Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer
  • How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer—Sarah Bakewell
  • Barney’s Version—Mordecai Richler

On the day I arrived at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, amid the snow and the painfully cold sponsored parties, I met a screenwriter who wanted to talk, not about movies or agents or distribution deals, but about this column, and this column only. Given the happy relationship between books and film, and the mutual understanding between authors and those who work in the movie industry, I presumed that this would be the first of many such conversations about the Believer; indeed, I was afraid that, after a couple of days, I would begin to tire of the subject. I didn’t want to be asked, over and over again, what the members of the Polysyllabic Spree were really like, in real life; I wanted the chance to offer my opinion on Miramax’s troubles, or the potential weaknesses in the new setup at WME. I made it my policy from that moment on to engage only with people who didn’t look like Believer readers. It was a policy that proved to be amazingly successful.

So Michael was the one who slipped under the wire, and I’m glad he did. He wanted one shot at a book recommendation—presumably on the basis of the fact that my own had ruined his reading life over the last few years—and hit me with John Williams’s novel Stoner. (To my relief, the title turned out to refer to a surname rather than an occupation.) Stoner is a brilliant, beautiful, inexorably sad, wise, and elegant novel, one of the best I read during my grotesquely unfair suspension from these pages. So when Michael, emboldened by his triumph, came back with a second tip, I listened, and I bought.

Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling is, like Stoner, part of the NYRB Classics series, but it didn’t begin its life, back in 1966, wearing that sort of smart hat. Search the title in Google Images and you’ll find a couple of the original covers, neither of which give the impression that Carpenter could read, let alone write. One shows a very bad drawing of a hunky bad boy leaning against the door of his jail cell; the other is a little murky on my screen, but I’m pretty sure I can see supine nudity. And of course these illustrations misrepresent Carpenter’s talents and intentions, but they don’t entirely misrepresent his novel: if you’d paid good money for it back in ’66, in the hope that (in the immortal words of Mervyn Griffith-Jones, the hapless chief prosecutor at the Lady Chatterley trial in 1960) you might be picking up something that you wouldn’t want your wife and servants to read, then you wouldn’t have asked for your money back.

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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