Stuff I’ve Been Reading

A monthly column

by Nick Hornby

BOOKS BOUGHT:

  • The Goldfinch—Donna Tartt
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold—John le Carré
  • Spike: An Intimate Memoir—Norma Farnes
  • An Officer and a Spy (Kindle)—Robert Harris

BOOKS READ:

  • English for the Natives—Harry Ritchie
  • Mo’ Meta Blues—Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
  • An Officer and a Spy—Robert Harris
  • Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957–1959—David Kynaston

The Believer, in common with other distinguished publications (most notably the New York Times), now asks its contributors to answer questions intended to clarify their relationship with the books and authors they are reviewing. This was inevitable, I suppose, and perhaps even overdue, given the shockingly opportunistic way in which one or two Believer writers have used these pages to promote their nearest and dearest over the years: by my reckoning, this will be the sixth time that I have written about my brother-in-law in this column, for example. The publication of Harry Ritchie’s English for the Natives, regrettably in the same month as Robert Harris’s An Officer and a Spy, has caused something of a constitutional crisis at Believer Towers, and, after long and occasionally ill-tempered discussions, we have arrived at a compromise: the questionnaire intended to ensure scrupulous probity has been amended as follows. (I reproduce both questions and answers, so that Believer readers can see that we have nothing to hide.)

HAVE YOU KNOWN HARRY RITCHIE FOR MORE THAN TWENTY-FIVE YEARS?
No. I first met him at the beginning of the 1990s, therefore, I have known him for less than a quarter of a century.

HAVE YOU BEEN FOR A DRINK AND/OR A MEAL WITH HARRY RITCHIE ON MORE THAN ONE THOUSAND OCCASIONS?
No. As we have gotten older, family and professional commitments have resulted in us meeting up only every three weeks or so.

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN NEXT-DOOR-NEIGHBORS?
No. He lived farther up and on the other side of the street, before moving out of the borough altogether.

WAS HE BEST MAN AT ALL OF YOUR WEDDINGS?
No. Only at the most recent.

ARE YOU GODFATHER TO ALL OF HIS CHILDREN?
No. Only to the youngest.

DID HE GIVE YOU A TICKET TO THE FOOTBALL LAST NIGHT, IN AN ATTEMPT TO INFLUENCE YOUR APPRAISAL OF HIS BOOK?
No. I gave him a ticket to the football last night, for no reason whatsoever.

In other words, you can read on, safe in the knowledge that this isn’t some dodgy English old pals’ act. Ritchie (I always call him that) isn’t even English! He’s Scottish! He hates the English!

As I have explained probably too many times before, “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” is a column about the books I’ve consumed in the previous month, and writers spend a lot of time consuming books written by friends and, sometimes, family. (Robert’s book is the second book by a family member to come out this year.) I could not write about them, of course, and sometimes, for various reasons, I don’t. Leaving them out, however, would mean that these pages do not truly or fairly reflect my reading life, and a true and fair reflection is kind of the point. And in any case, Harry’s book is about a subject that I’m interested in, something that we have spent time talking about over the last few years, and I think you might be interested in it, too.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please contact us to purchase a copy of the magazine.

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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