Tag Archives: Nick Hornby

All the sweet books I read on vacation

19 Oct

fullsizeoutput_1e8eReturning from vacation tends to engender three questions: How was it? Where did you go? What did you do? For me—freshly returned this week from a five-day sojourn to Vermont—the answer to No. 3 is almost always “I read all of the books.”

My vacay book binges aren’t just the byproduct of fast reading. They’re a result of devoting entire glorious days to the task—turning off the TV, hiding my phone, putting on my comfy pants, and settling into a cushy armchair, preferably one facing some sort of relaxing outdoor vista. In Vermont, it was the pillow-padded wicker deck chair of a cabin on Lake Champlain (at right). Here’s what I got done:

PulitzersThe Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The sympathizer (small s) is the novel’s narrator, a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist double agent stationed in the US after the Fall of Saigon. He’s astute, insightful, and wry, and this book isn’t just good; it’s important. [4 PAPERCUTS]

Funny Girl, by Nick Hornby
In 1960s London, an upstart actress named Barbara just wants to be the next Lucille Ball. She stumbles into an audition that changes her life, and is soon thrown into the spotlight as TV star Sophie Straw, alongside an extremely British quartet of male colleagues (the costar, the writers, and the producer). As with all Hornby novels, I can already picture the movie. [3 PAPERCUTS]

Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerAnnihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
A biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor walk into Area X—the jokes write themselves. They are the 12th in a series of expeditions to the quarantined region; past participants have died, disappeared, or never been the same. This book is like Michael Crichton’s Sphere on mushrooms. (Alex Garland’s film adaptation comes out in February.) [3 PAPERCUTS]

Modern Lovers & The Vacationers, by Emma Straub
Two enjoyable family dramas that, fun fact, both have a character who hates bacon. [3 PAPERCUTS]

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
I ran out of books on my last day in VT, and had promised myself I wouldn’t read anything on a screen. The cabin had a copy of this one (naturally), so I read it (naturally) and sobbed uncontrollably while looking out at the lake (naturally). The title is kind of self-explanatory—he time travels, they’re in love… you get it—but as books forced upon you by circumstance go, one could do far worse. [3 PAPERCUTS]

Sweetbitter_mini Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler 

The perfect book for my first day back in New York (but not yet back at work). Danler’s debut is a coming-of-age story about a 22-year-old waitress at a fictional version of Union Square Cafe (the OG fancy restaurant of a major New York restaurateur; Danler once worked there). The novel’s descriptions of food and sex and NYC are wonderful, but every character is a terrible person and I would not like to be friends with any of them. [3 PAPERCUTS]

Reports from the front lines of the Mommy Wars

26 Jun

9780316234795_p0_v1_s260x420The first time I read the words “Mean Girls for moms”—a blurb adorning the back cover of forthcoming Gill Hornby novel The Hive—I threw up a little bit in my mouth.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Mean Girls. I watch the shit out of Mean Girls. But describe a book to me as “a tart vivisection of mother culture” and I’m already dozing off. Or running in the other direction.

The Hive—a debut novel for Hornby, whose brother is, yes, the fantabulous Nick Hornby—is pretty highly anticipated, as books go. (Released in the UK in May, it goes on sale here in September). The novel inspired a seven-way bidding war among publishers, and Focus Features has already bought the movie rights. At this very moment, some studio executive may be out in search of quirky middle-aged women to play each of The Hive’s caricatural leading ladies.

And who are these ladies? Well. There’s Rachel, our protagonist of sorts, whose husband recently left her for an intern. There’s Georgie, hilarious and uncouth mother of six, whose notion of “joining in” is muttering sarcastic quips from the sidelines. We have Heather, over-eager and desperately insecure mother of one, and of course Beatrice—Bea—the queen of the moms, the Regina George, the HBIC. Continue reading

Enough About Suicide Already

11 Dec

So I’m in a bit of a funk this morning, which I’ll need to get past in short order as I’m soon headed to Penn State for a night of good old-fashioned state-school drinking. In any case, this morning I read about Mark Madoff, the elder son of disgraced financier (and current prison resident) Bernard Madoff. Mark committed suicide yesterday, undoubtedly due to the number of lawsuits pending against him and the rest of his family, and what I can only imagine have been years of criticisms and death threats against him for his alleged involvement in the Ponzi scheme. Which is particularly sad since it was both Mark and his brother who told authorities about the scheme as soon as they found out, thereby setting the stage for their own father’s 150-year prison sentence.

I guess it was only appropriate that a real-life tragedy would occur on the morning that I finished this week’s read, Nick Hornby’s About a Boy. I know what you’re thinking: If the Hugh Grant movie is any indication, About a Boy isn’t a sad story–it’s about a mildly bizarre 12-year-old who befriends an affable but clueless middle-aged guy who otherwise hates kids and meaningless social interaction (in other words, every Hugh Grant character ever). But if you’ll remember, the catalyst for the development of that relationship is the weird boy’s mother’s attempt to kill herself, which is discovered by Marcus (the boy) and Hugh Grant on their first day together. Indeed, much of About a Boy is really about life, and whether it’s worth living, and if so, why. This isn’t unprecedented territory for Hornby who, despite his reputation for writing generally humorous novels, actually uses a comedic voice to touch on fairly poignant issues: High Fidelity was about lost love; How to Be Good was about failed marriages; Juliet, Naked was about unfulfilled aspirations. And A Long Way Down was, well that one was pretty much entirely about suicide. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say the point of life, or lack thereof, is something Hornby has given a considerable amount of thought. Continue reading

Books About Books. Meta.

28 Oct

Since I’ve spent the better part of this week trying not to cry on the subway because of Beautiful Boy, I thought maybe I’d cheer you guys (and myself, since I am, I imagine, my blog’s No. 1 reader) up by recommending an author astronomically less likely to put you in a funk and make you stare resentfully at everything from beer to cough syrup, muttering things like to yourself like “stupid drugs.”

Now, if you haven’t heard of Nick Hornby, back up. Because you have. He’s the bloke (he’s British, so I can say that) behind About a Boy, High Fidelity and Fever Pitch (the book, on which the Jimmy Fallon abomination is based, is far superior). His books are almost compulsively readable, sort of like what David Sedaris might write if he took a Valium and/or developed a generally more upbeat (though still sarcastic) outlook on life. Which, again, not a dig at Sedaris. My idea of upbeat is assuming the world won’t end in my lifetime.

Lesser known, however, than books like High Fidelity and A Long Way Down, are Hornby’s essays in The Believer, a mostly literature-focused magazine published by McSweeney’s (the brainchild of Dave Eggars, who is unto himself another blog post for another day). Fortunately for us, these essays have been compiled in a series of short books: The Polysyllabic Spree, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt and Shakespeare Wrote for Money. These, almost as if to counteract the accessibility and general ease of Hornby’s novels, are books for book nerds. You see, in the beginning of each chapter, Hornby lists two columns: the books he has bought that month, and the books he has read. …It should come as no surprise that Hornby’s ratio of books books bought to books read is as skewed as mine. The rest is a hodgepodge of reviews, anecdotes and general musings, which sounds…vaguely familiar.

The upside of these books is threefold: 1) Although they aren’t novels, and although creating fictional characters is a Hornby strength, they still indisputably have his wit and style. 2) If you’re looking for book ideas, they are a great place to start; I would venture a guess that they’ve added 20+  titles to my own Amazon Wish List. And 3) If you, like me, need the consolation that there are other neurotic weird book-buying freaks out there, well, look no further.