It may be argued that a ‘top five’ article would fit no author more snugly than it would Nick Hornby. In High Fidelity, Hornby’s first novel, we walk around the life of Rob Fleming, owner of second hand record store Championship Vinyl, a man with a penchant for summing up the important experiences of his life in—you guessed it—top five lists. And so, in celebration of the acclaimed British author’s birthday, we pluck out five bits of insight from five landmark titles—right here, right now, in chronological order…
In the autobiographical Fever Pitch (1992), Hornby recounts his experience as a rabid fan of the Arsenal football club, suggesting a bit of understanding be extended by society at large in the direction of rabid sports fans:
“I have always been accused of taking the things I love – football, of course, but also books and records – much too seriously, and I do feel a kind of anger when I hear a bad record, or when someone is lukewarm about a book that means a lot to me…”
“… So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.”
In High Fidelity (1995),we navigate with Rob Fleming through the tangles of his less than satisfying existence, while trying to figure out the secret recipe behind good relationships, or compilation cassettes, for that matter:
“What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person? People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands, of songs about broken hearts and rejection and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don’t know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they’ve been listening to the sad songs longer than they’ve been living the unhappy lives.”
In About A Boy (1998), Hornby muses about the importance of connectedness with other people by following the life of a person who, well, really couldn’t give a crap. The lead character, Will Freeman (ironic surname, eh?) farts out the rationale behind his self-involved existence:
“Loving people, and allowing yourself to be loved, was only worth the risk if the odds were in your favor, but they quite clearly weren’t. There were about seventy-nine squillion people in the world, and if you were very lucky, you would end up being loved by fifteen or twenty of them. So how smart did you have to be to work out that it just wasn’t worth the risk?”
It’s ironic that a dying marriage would teach us about love. But in How To Be Good (2001), we glean some insight from the perspective of Katie Carr and her marriage to David Grant:
“The plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don’t need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone.”
Four lives intersect when they seek to commit suicide alone, only to discover that other people have picked the same spot to do the deed. Explore mortality, depression, disillusionment in A Long Way Down (2005):
“A man who wants to die feels angry and full of life and desperate and bored and exhausted, all at the same time; he wants to fight everyone, and he wants to curl up in a ball and hide in a cupboard somewhere. He wants to say sorry to everyone, and he wants everyone to know just how badly they’ve all let him down.”
The genius of Nick Hornby is his expertise on messed up people, the rare ability to articulate the questions that fill the troubled minds of the devastatingly ordinary in a manner that is unique, yet makes you feel the exact same way, too. He prefers to tackle life’s heavy issues, but never without a healthy serving of tongue-in-cheek. He takes us right to the edge where we can take a good look at his compelling—and funny—characters, and perhaps fall in and realize that we’re really a lot like those people in those books. And who knows—maybe we’re a lot like Nick, too?
What’s your favorite quote from a Nick Hornby book?