Guys, I met Nick Hornby yesterday. We talked about books for 47 seconds, and it was AWESOME.
Don’t know who Nick Hornby is? Well, here’s a gift from me to you (and, of course, from Nick Hornby): He’s the hilarious, insightful author who gave us High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Fever Pitch, among other popular works. Starting to sound familiar? That’s probably because those three little books were adapted into hit films starring John Cusack, Hugh Grant, and Jimmy Fallon.
Hornby was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay An Education (adapted from journalist Lynn Barber’s memoir), a critically acclaimed 2009 film starring Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard. He collaborated with Ben Folds for the album Lonely Avenue in 2010. He also adapted the screenplay for 2014’s Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon.
And, last night, he came to the Union Square Barnes & Noble in New York to do a book signing and promote his latest novel, Funny Girl.
After a short reading, he sat down with Barnes & Noble Review editor Bill Tipper for a chat about obsessive fictional characters, British TV, and life in the 1960s.
Before the signing, he took questions from the audience, addressing them with his trademark thoughtfulness and wit. When asked how and why he writes female characters so thoroughly and authentically, he answered that it was a conscious effort to expand on his writerly skills after his first few books were deemed male-centric. One audience member wanted to know how he felt about his books being taught in schools (it happens occasionally), and he said the worst thing that can be done to a book is to subject it to testing. (Examination, he added, necessarily kills all potential for enjoyment.) On the subject of music, he said that it was Ben Folds’ contribution to Lonely Avenue that carried most of the weight of success, and not his (Hornby’s) lyrics. “You can have a good song with bad lyrics,” he said, “but you can’t have a good song with bad music.”
I stuck around for the book signing—something I have done/would do only for a small handful of writers—and waited my turn. When we had a chance to talk, he was both gracious and friendly. I asked him to name some of his favorite writers (who better to ask for book recommendations than one of my own favorite writers?), and he rattled off a dozen names in rapid succession. I only remembered the first three:
- Ann Taylor (NOT, I assume, the one who makes business attire for women)
- Elizabeth McCracken
- Dave Eggers
So now I must drop everything and read their entire bibliographies.
In case I haven’t sold you on Nick Hornby yet, here are some excerpts from his books:
That’s the worst sweater I’ve ever seen. I have never seen a sweater that bad worn by anybody I’m on speaking terms with.
As a writer, I don’t normally have much patience for the ineffable—I ought to think that everything’s effing effable, otherwise what’s the point?
That’s the thing with the young these days, isn’t it? They watch too many happy endings. Everything has to be wrapped up, with a smile and a tear and a wave. Everyone has learned, found love, seen the error of their ways, discovered the joys of monogamy, or fatherhood, or filial duty, or life itself. In my day, people got shot at the end of films, after learning only that life is hollow, dismal, brutish, and short.
What are the chances, eh? One in a million? One in ten million? I don’t know. But of course even one in ten million means that there are a lot of women like me in the world. That’s not what you think of, when you think of one in ten million. You don’t think, That’s a lot of people.
My mother, after all, belonged to a generation that danced—danced and smooched—to “How Much Is that Doggie in the Window?” and if she felt able to be snooty about “Get It On,” then surely snootiness is a weapon available to all.
For me, Nick Hornby combines all the essential elements of exceptional writing: intelligence and humor, without any high-brow nonsense or sentimentality. And, of course, there’s a certain special pleasure in enjoying the output of a contemporary author—the possibility of meeting him/her, obviously.
I am now the proud owner of a signed copy of High Fidelity…
…and Funny Girl.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do some reading.