22 October 2012

Nick Hornby: "I believe in reading until you find the book that speaks to you"

On Thursday I went to see author, Oscar nominee and Believer columnist Nick Hornby speak at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. Hornby has a shaved head and the kind of unplaceable English accent that would be described by the typical American as "Well, it's not Michael Caine, but..." He was introduced and later interviewed by Believer editor Vendela Vida, who has luminous skin and delivered a hilarious deadpan address casting all of Hornby's accomplishments as annoying side jobs from his central focus on "Stuff I've Been Reading."

The program was billed as a "First Reads" event in which Hornby would read a book assigned to him (by... someone) that he had never read before and then give a talk on it. I felt a little let down upon finding out in the room that the book was going to be MRS. DALLOWAY, but I shouldn't have; Hornby delivered a fascinating talk on how his rebellion against formal literature study (starting from the moment when he decided not to read "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight") and the unsympathetic view of a biography he skimmed for a contest caused him to neglect Woolf entirely until this assignment. Hornby joked that he was surprised that so many people turned up to hear someone talking about something he knew so little about, but "that's America for you." 

Hornby contrasted Woolf's occasional patronizations with Dickens, who is now equally beloved in scholarship but whose novels were rarely reviewed in his own time. There's a moment in MRS. DALLOWAY where a man is described as "nondescript," which he sees as Woolf's opinion in a nutshell: that some people are just not worth the narrative space -- again, not an attitude Dickens would have shared. But he praised Woolf's beautiful structure and the way the consciousness of MRS. DALLOWAY flows from subject to subject.

The Believer column whose fourth collection MORE BATHS, LESS TALKING has definitely shaped Hornby's own reading tastes, beyond his occasionally picking shorter books to read (he admitted, guiltily). He said he feels less pressure now about reading the latest prizewinner just to have an opinion on it, but instead chooses to focus on "books I think I would get something out of." He also acknowledged (without naming names) that some books' faults are the faults of the reader, for not giving them proper attention. Hornby also spoke briefly about his current adaptation projects, Colm Toibin's BROOKLYN and Cheryl Strayed's WILD (I know, right??) as well as his struggles adapting to an e-reader, which he said he can only use while traveling for convenience's sake.

1 comment:

Nikki said...