The Nick Hornby Interview

Today is the day to sing along even though you don't know the words

I'm not exactly a huge soccer fan (especially since the USA and Poland both lost), but I figured that since the World Cup is going on, I'm going to get you a huge soccer fan as my interviewee today. Actually, I can't lie, it was a total coincidence that I got the author of Fever Pitch during this orgy of what-the-rest-of-the-world-calls-'football.' You probably also know my interviewee for, amongst many many other things, the books High Fidelity, How to be Good and About a Boy. There have also been some movies adapted from these books, in case you didn't know. And for what it's worth, today's interviewee is an anomaly for me--he responded to a snail mail request for an interview (which almost never garner responses), and, despite him being a literary celebrity, he is quite the nice guy.

The Nick Hornby Interview: Slightly Under Twenty Questions

Who's going to win the World Cup?
Togo. I was going to say Brazil, but it's such a boring and unimaginative answer.

Which film version of Fever Pitch do you prefer?
I wrote the British one, and I ended up having two children with the producer. So there are various personal and sentimental reasons for choosing the British one. And sports obsession took a back seat in the Farelly Brothers version. Drew Barrymore was the star, and she wasn?t playing a sports fan.

Did the Boston Red Sox send you a championship ring for the role that the movie played in breaking the World Series curse? Obviously it's all due to you.
I've heard nothing. And their rudeness and ingratitude mean that they will never win it again. The Curse of the Hornbino!

Why is High Fidelity the musical debuting in Boston?
I don?t think there's an interesting answer to this question. Availability of theatres, etc etc zzzzz.

Do you feel that the musical more reflects the film, or the book?
I really don't know anything about the musical, to be honest. I'm in friendly contact with Amanda Green, one of the writers, but I haven't read anything. I'm really excited, though. I'm going to a Broadway first night, maybe, if they give me tickets! And my name might be on the poster somewhere, in very small letters!

I know you're not a songwriter, but how does one turn material about being dumped and alone into fun, catchy stuff?
I see that as my job. There is way too little fun, catchy literature about sad things. If you feel you have something to say about the world, then the best way to get people to listen is to put a joke in, which is why I have so little patience with so much literary fiction.

I saw on your website David Carr's from How to Be Good list of People in world history who are overrated wankers? and I found it quite thought-provoking. Do you agree with his choices?
I didn?t mean it to be thought-provoking, really. David's wrong about more or less everything and everybody. He's bitter and self-opinionated, and I partly wrote that list to show that someone, somewhere will always slag off a bona fide genius. Dickens! Dickens was the greatest novelist who ever lived.

What?s so great about your bathroom that it ranks as one of your top five favorite places?
Sadly, that was my old bathroom. I live in a lovely new house now, but my old bathroom was huge, and it had speakers right next to a stand-alone tub, and--Actually, I don't want to go on with this answer. It's making me depressed.

What's the status of the A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius film?
No status. It's in turnaround, as far as I know. DV and I did one draft and then it disappeared into a black studio hole, presumably forever.

What music have you been listening to lately?
I liked that Springsteen Seeger album until my kids discovered it, so now that?s been ruined, because now I hear it five hundred times a day. Otherwise: Camille, Cat Power, Roddy Frame, the Ronelles and an Eddie Hinton compilation. Every year is a good year for new music.

What's the secret to writing a good book review? How do you say a book is not that great without sounding like an a-hole?
I used to sound like an a-hole, before I got published, and then you realize how unpleasant it is to have some know-nothing pipsqueak dump on you! But I only read books I know I'm going to like, now, so writing about them is a lot easier. Even if it turns out that I don't like them as much as I though I would, I begin them all feeling generous and on the side of both book and writer. Too many reviews are written with the critic already having made up his or her mind before page one.

I loved About a Boy, especially because it portrayed an immature man not as somebody who goes to keg parties and who lives at home. I think that and High Fidelity have helped spawn a lot of books about such men. Why do you think there is an audience happy to read about men who are pretty much the opposite of Hemingway characters?
Notions of masculinity have changed, that's for sure. We don't have as much use for the old bullfighting model as we once did - not that it was anything more than, um, aspirational. There will always be tough guys in books. But there's also an audience that needs its own reality reflected back at them, and that reality is pretty humdrum for a lot of us. The heroism necessary just to get through an ordinary life - all that pain and loss - has always been underestimated. I'm not sure you're right, incidentally, that Will in About A Boy is immature, as such. I think his goal - to live life as painlessly as possible - is entirely legitimate. It's just not possible.

Are you still smoking? Do you think your writing would suffer if you didn?t have that ritual as part of it?
Yeah, yeah. Still smoking. I like to tell myself that writing would be impossible without it, but I've managed to write during my innumerable attempts to quit, and the quality didn't seem to change. So it's addiction pure and simple.

I heard that Dave Eggers is intolerant of smoking?has he tried to get you to quit?
No. Perhaps he doesn't love me enough.

Who in pop culture right now do you think is hideously overrated? (I'm thinking writers/musicians, specifically).
I can't answer this. Responses to music are so personal, and I can only believe that all personal responses are genuine, whatever I might think of the music. Obviously bands that sell a million copies of an album aren't a hundred times better than a band that sells ten thousand copies. But neither (and this is the rock snob's mistaken belief) are they necessarily a hundred times worse.

Why do you think sequels aren't good ideas?
They're not a good idea for me. I know that I'd only write a sequel when all ideas for new things have dried up. In which case, caveat emptor.

Would you ever explore a new genre? If so, which?
I don't think I read enough genre fiction to be able to suddenly launch into something. There's nothing better than a well-written and well-conceived thriller, but I know I wouldn?t be capable of it.

How does it feel to be the 149th person interviewed for

Of all the honours bestowed upon me during my career (eg and ie winner, William Hill Sports Book of the Year 1992), this is by far the most meaningful. So long as you reserved that number for me, and it wasn't just a happy accident.

Editor's Note: Unfortunately, he was supposed to be #150 but I miscounted. Oh well. Read the previous 148 here.