Nick Hornby's novels are funny, deeply moving, and they're elegies to pop culture -- rock music, mostly. If you haven't read High Fidelity, then download it or order it now. If you haven't read About A Boy, ditto. Juliet, Naked is a personal favorite -- about an aging and reclusive singer who straddles a shaky line between oblivion and cult hero. Novels don't get much more fun than this, and they turn into such good movies too. (Where's the film version of Juliet, Naked, by the way? Note to Hollywood: instead of endless and ridiculously expensive remakes of superhero films, how about a modest undertaking of a great story -- and Hornby is already a pretty capable screenwriter: he wrote the screenplay to An Education, another personal favorite. So get on it. Call me. I'll help.)
The thing about Nick Hornby is that while he's a master of paying homage to pop culture in his novels, he devotes himself to the reading life as much as he does to the writing life. You can't be such a great writer without being a great reader. In his columns in the Believer, a magazine devoted to fiction, Hornby covers the books he reads, and the ones he doesn't necessarily get to. His choices veer from the sublime to the less sublime, while digressing about football, Celine Dion, or his pretty hilarious inferiority complex vis-à-vis his famous literary brother-in-law, Robert Harris. (Note to Nick: Robert Harris might be an expert on cranking out huge and wonderful best-selling thrillers and historical fiction about Pompeii, but could he ever crank out something about the vicissitudes of a record store, or a one-hit-wonder trying to meet sympathetic, eligible women in socially difficult London -- where he's already exhausted the obvious supply? While we admire and revere Mr. Harris, we think not.)
Hornby's new book, More Baths, Less Talking, a collection of essays which ran in the Believer, is for people who love books. Who buy books because we need to have access to ideas, to stories, to history. It's for people who love Dickens, Updike or Patti Smith or Friday Night Lights. It's for people who love television. Movies. Music. Montaigne. Or for people who might not remember exactly what Montaigne said. And it's for people who buy and download all sorts of books -- books that we've been dying to read for years, or books that sound great, or books purchased at a small bookstore merely for the sake of supporting the bookstore -- knowing how those books might accumulate on the dresser, whether or not they're actually tackled. It's for people who love reading Nick Hornby's wry, self-deprecating and often hilarious prose about life's distractions and digressions -- digressions that explain so much not only about the experience of reading, the experience of loving to read, of needing to read, but also about the texts themselves.
It's serious too -- and Hornby tackles huge questions about the world's crises and personal revelation as he tells us what he's reading. His Updike material is particularly hilarious -- but not necessarily more hilarious than the riff on Robert Harris, or his gentle reminders about being nominated for an Academy Award for his screenplay of An Education.
We know why Nick Hornby is such a terrific novelist, screenwriter and columnist: it's not only what he reads, but how he reads.
Writers Bloc presents Nick Hornby with Tom Bissell on Oct. 22, 7:30 p.m., at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. For more information, visit writersblocpresents.com .