A friend of mine from college, upon seeing my home bedroom for the first time, decorated as it was with Beatles posters and books and CDs and proudly displayed pictures of me at Abbey Road and in Liverpool, told me this: “I knew you liked the Beatles, but you’ve got it bad…”
It shouldn’t be too hard, then, to explain just exactly why I like author Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Juliet, Naked) or just exactly how much I like him. I am an obsessive creature and Nick Hornby understands me. I don’t always connect with Horby’s characters, but I always connect with the way he writes about them and the observations he makes about life as an obsessive person. A music fanatic and die-hard Arsenal fan himself, Hornby knows not how he or his characters got to be the way they are, but he knows, unquestionably, like I do, that it’s the best way to be.
I suppose part of the reason I am an obsessive person is because I don’t like much. Life often doesn’t live up to the grandiose expectations set by romantic movies or the ramblings on of idiotic, happy co-workers.So when I find something I really like, it holds a more prominent place in my existence than it might in someone else’s. It might seem like a lot of pressure to ask a single author to validate my entire existence with every novel he writes, but Hornby never fails me.
I am writing about this today because last night Hornby was in Seattle reading from his latest release, Juliet, Naked, at the Seattle Public Library. He’s a short man, skinny but with a bit of a beer gut. His prominent ears stick out from his bald head, and his voice is nasally, though last night he also sounded congested, making me think he had a cold.
In response to a question asked by an audience member, Hornby described himself as an optimist – a rarity in British literature. Taking the thoughts out of my head and the words out of my mouth, he said that he didn’t believe art had to be dreary and devoid of hope to be good. This is why he puts characters in bad situations and helps them turn things around or find the good in life.
(In response to my question, about the process of writing a novel and whether the idea comes to him whole or in bits and pieces, he said the particular inspiration for Juliet, Naked was a story he read in a magazine about a journalist’s quest to find the reclusive Sly Stone from Sly & the Family Stone. He said the idea generates as he is writing it, but he always knows his characters fully.)
Despite my propensity for pessimism, the hope that infiltrates Hornby’s novels and the emotional connection I am able to make with the writing (and writing style) make me feel real, whole and at home. There are many times when I don’t feel connected with the world that surrounds me, that I’m some sort of hopeless anomaly in a world constructed for other people. Then I read something by Nick Hornby and I know that everything is okay because somebody out there gets me.
From Songbook, by Nick Hornby (I think it’s important for you to know that I found this quote AFTER I wrote this post, and this is from a non-fiction work of his.)
“But sometimes, very occasionally, songs and books and films and pictures express who you are, perfectly. And they don’t do this in words or image, necessarily; the connection is a lot less direct and more complicated than that. When I was first beginning to write seriously, I read Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and suddenly knew what I was, and what I wanted to be, for better or for worse. It’s a process something like falling in love. You don’t necessarily choose the best person, or the wisest, or the most beautiful; there’s something else going on. There was a part of me that would rather have fallen for Updike, or Kerouac, or DeLillo – for someone masculine, at least, maybe somebody a little more opaque, and certainly someone who uses more swear words – and though I have admired those writers, at various stages in my life, admiration is a very different thing from the kind of transference I’m talking about. I’m talking about understanding or at least feeling like I understand – every artistic decision, every impulse, the soul of both the work and its creator. “This is me,” I wanted to say when I read Tyler’s rich, sad, lovely novel. “I’m not a character, I’m nothing like the author, I haven’t had the experiences she writes about. But even so, this is what I feel like, inside. This is what I would sound like, if ever I were to find a voice.” And I did find a voice, eventually, and it was mine, not hers; but nevertheless, so powerful was the process of identification that I still don’t feel as though I’ve expressed myself as well, as completely, as Tyler did on my behalf then.” –pg. 16-17