March 2012

Stuff I’ve Been Reading

A monthly column

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • A Daughter’s Love: Thomas More and His Dearest Meg—John Guy
  • Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark—Brian Kellow
  • Ready Player One—Ernest Cline
  • Skylark—Dezsö Kosztolányi
  • Townie—Andre Dubus III
  • Pulphead—John Jeremiah Sullivan

BOOKS READ:

  • The Train in the Night: A Story of Music and Loss—Nick Coleman
  • You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup—Peter Doggett
  • Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark—Brian Kellow
  • A Daughter’s Love: Thomas More and His Dearest Meg—John Guy

I have known Nick Coleman for something like thirty years. He is one of the few people in my life that ticks every single one of my conversational boxes. (For the record, the conversational boxes are: books, family and relationships, football, music, writing, films, television, and the health of the psyche, although not necessarily in that order.) I value what he has to say on any subject he chooses to address, but when he turns his attention to music, I am likely to make mental and sometimes even actual notes, because, even now—and the qualification is not an insult, as I’ll explain later—Nick has fantastic ears. He loves all the people a serious popular-music critic is supposed to love, Marvin and Miles Davis and the Stones and Tom Waits and so on; but he listens without prejudice, too—he is so unwilling to judge, in fact, that he can even take pleasure from English folk music, a form that can create almost irrepressible homicidal urges in less-forgiving souls—and as a result, he is able to find gold in the most unpromising terrain. It was Nick who told me about Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, a Tanita Tikaram album that I still love to this day, at a time when everyone, me included, had made up their minds about Tanita Tikaram, in my case without having heard her. (And it was only years later, after Revolutionary Road had been republished in the U.K., that I realized she’d taken the title from a Richard Yates collection. That should have told me something, but I needed to be as well read as she was in order to understand it.) It was Nick who insisted that I gave Sade’s achingly beautiful and bottomlessly soulful Lovers Rock album a chance, at a time when everyone, me included, had decided that Sade was best heard in a Body Shop in an earlier decade. You may already have come to your own conclusions about these two records, and as a result feel that you have Nick’s number; well, you’re wrong on both counts—unless, that is, you agree with us. I like to think that I can occasionally reciprocate with books that I know he will love, books he might otherwise have missed, and I know that I am wholly responsible for the clasping of Friday Night Lights to the Coleman family bosom. But music recommendations last in a way that book and TV recommendations never can, sadly; tracks pop up in the car on playlists, decades after they came into my life, and as a consequence, I probably thank Nick more times in an average month than he thanks me.

And then, a few years ago, something catastrophic happened to Nick’s ears: One morning, he found that the hearing in one of them was gone, suddenly, with no warning. He lost his balance, he started throwing up, and the thuds and bleeps and wails of tinnitus made him feel as though his head was going to explode. And music, when it was not causing him physical pain, no longer sounded like music. Since that first terrifying day, some things have got better, slowly—he walks without a stick now, and he has found ways to hear and to listen; but he remains half-deaf. The perfection of the cosmic joke becomes apparent pretty quickly: what better way to create a wonderful memoir (and yes, Nick is a friend, but this is a wonderful memoir nonetheless) than to screw around with the hearing of a music writer—someone whose ability to describe sound and rhythm and feel is valued by a much wider circle than its owner?

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 is the author of six novels, the most recent of which is Juliet, Naked, and a memoir, Fever Pitch. He is also the author of Songbook, a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award for music criticism, and editor of the short-story collection Speaking with the Angel. His screenplay for An Education was nominated for an Academy Award. He lives in North London.

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