An Open Letter to Nick Hornby

Dear Nick,

I'm sure I'm not the first to behave as though I know you personally just because I've spent the last few weeks reading all the "Stuff I've Been Reading" columns from The Believer magazine, so I'm not going to apologize for addressing you as Nick. It's your name, after all.

Here's the thing, Nick. I added The Polysyllabic Spree and More Baths Less Talking to my Amazon.com wishlist December 5, 2012. I know because Amazon keeps track of such things for me. On February 3, 2015, I ordered these two - plus Housekeeping vs The Dirt and Shakespeare Wrote for Money and (because I couldn't bear to not own all the words) Ten Years in the Tub. If these books hadn't been so ridiculously entertaining, you would have owed me an apology. Instead, I need to ask your forgiveness.

Forgive me, please, for waiting so long to read your work. Forgive me, too, for not yet reading any of your fiction. Or watching any of your movies. I do have Lonely Avenue, but that might have more to do with Ben Folds than you. Sorry.

Forgive me for ripping off your monthly reflection idea for my blog. I promise it won't compete for your Believer readers. Or any other readers, really.

I have a list, Nick. It's called Books Nick Hornby Thinks I Should Read. Really. Here it is:
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
George and Sam: Autism in the Family by Charlotte Moore
Clockers by Richard Price
True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall by Mark Salzman
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
We're in Trouble by Chris Coake
Tony Hoagland's poetry
How to Live: Or, a Life of Montaigne in One Question and 20 Attempts at an Answer: Sarah Bakewell
The Broken Word by Adam Foulds
Book of Days by Emily Fox Gordon
The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje
Skellig by David Almond
Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer
Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford
The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell
I have chosen to exclude from The List those titles or authors I already wanted to read. You don't get to take credit just for increasing my interest in something. That wouldn't be fair.

I've ordered Moneyball (it arrived today) and asked the library to buy The Conversations. The rest are going to take some time, Nick. I can't afford you. But I can thank you.

Thanks for articulating such an understated evangelism for the books you've read. Thanks for agreeing with me on almost all the books we've both read (we depart on Junot Diaz) and for challenging me with books I probably won't ever read and for getting me to read books I really should read. About film reviewer Pauline Kael, you write, "But I loved her energy, her enthusiasm, her informality and her colloquialisms, her distrust of phoniness, even before I realized that these were qualities I wanted to steal from her." Would you accept a ditto?

One last thing, Nick. You write glowingly about Mohsin Hamid's How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and conclude with this beautiful sentence:
If you can boil an entire life down to its essence, without losing any of the detail, shape, pain, or joy of that life, then it seems to me that you've done pretty much everything a novel is capable of doing. (Ten Years in the Tub 462)
It might also be true of a magazine column on the reading life. Here's to 10 more years.




February - it may not be the cruellest month, but it might be the most reviled. Hated for its brevity, for its still-winterness, for its confusing Leap Year uncertainties. But so far, February has been awfully good to me, at least as far as reading is concerned.

It started when someone recommended Karen Swallow Prior’s Booked to me, and I grabbed it one afternoon from the school library. In this book, Prior organizes each chapter around one of the books that have been most formative in her life and faith, creating a memoir of sorts. The chapter on Jane Eyre focuses on identity formation, especially in adolescence - which we all will agree is - as Prior writes - “a time of becoming” (78). Then she goes on to talk about nonconformity and continues to play with the word becoming: “I mistook nonconformity for freedom and in so doing found myself anything but free. For it is in conformity to one’s true nature that one is most becoming in both senses of the word: well-fitted and beautiful” (91). I love the wordplay - here and elsewhere in the book, but it is more than just play. It is an often intellectual, almost academic book, but it is not inaccessible. The life and the literature are well-balanced, and I fully enjoyed it.

While reading Booked, I was reminded of Nick Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” column that originates in The Believer magazine and is collected in several volumes, and one afternoon, I went home and just ordered them all. I had the completely ridiculous idea that I might use one of them as my Summer Reading selection. Why ridiculous, you ask? Because Hornby’s hilarious and oh-so-insightful thoughts are sometimes laced with profanity - not a thing that bothers me so much, but probably not what the parents at my school would be most interested in me assigning. Upon realizing their inappropriateness, I should have set them aside and picked up another Summer Reading possibility, but I couldn’t. In fact, I could hardly set them aside at all. February may be a short month, but I have read them all this month, and I couldn’t be happier about it. The column is (usually) a monthly thing where Hornby opens with two lists: Books Bought and Books Read. As I read (and read and read) these columns, I found myself making a list of my own: Books Nick Hornby Thinks I Should Read. Seriously. It’s a list I’ve actually made.

I’m going to write more about my joy over these collected columns in a bit, but besides The List, reading these pieces gave me an idea for the blog, and I thought I might steal the concept in just one important way. I can’t be as smart and honest and humble and straight-up funny as Hornby is, but I can write one longish piece on each month’s reading experience and maybe, just maybe, the blog might come back to life.


*Gasp* -Glub- Flail

It's the end of the year, and though I hate to be a cliche, I am drowning in student work. I have neglected this space for too long, however, especially when I need to announce the winner of the Dirty Chick giveaway:

Christine LaRue!!

I will email you promptly to get your mailing address and get you a book, Christine! Happy Reading.

That task completed, I must now return to the land of the grading. Before I go, though, I wanted to comment on how rich my reading life has been lately. I finished Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being a week or more ago, and it was tremendous. Thoughtful and thought-provoking and oh-so-smart. Do read it. (Caution: there is continuous dealing with difficult subjects such as bullying, rape, and suicide). I also read R. J. Palacio's Wonder last week for our Girls+Mamas book club. Have I told you guys about that? It is going swimmingly. The book did not woo me immediately; there were some authorial choices I didn't agree with, some writing I thought was meh, but by the end, I was a weepy mess, and that is not at all a common event for me. It is a sweet and emotional look at empathy and school life and family and love, and I urge you to read it as well.

Oh yeah, while I'm at it, I'll urge you to "always try to be a little kinder than is necessary."

That is all.

I'll see you in another week, I hope!

PS: It always seems to be easier to be a little kinder than is necessary once the Christmas lights go up on the tree. Ours got hung yesterday, and I think I'll spend the next 5 minutes notgrading and notblogging and drinking coffee by the light of the tree. Mmmm....