The first Nick Hornby book I read was How To Be Good. Halfway through, I looked up at my sister and said, “I’m not even sure I like this book, but I think I’m going to read everything this guy has written.” I was right. I’ve gone on to read all of Nick Hornby’s books. How to Be Good is still my least favorite… but it was my gateway to all the others.
So in my experience you can dip in anywhere with Hornby and find something to like. But his oeuvre is wide; he’s written fiction, criticism, and a football memoir, not to mention three screenplays (An Education, Brooklyn, and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild), and some Ben Folds song lyrics. There are also a rash of TV shows and films based on his books. So where to begin? Well, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, and I’ve got a little pathway here, just for you, to introduce you to my favorite author. Welcome.
High Fidelity is the story of Rob, a struggling record store owner whose girlfriend just broke up with him. Amidst cataloging his record collection (not alphabetically, but autobiographically) and listing his Top 5 Films/Songs/Albums, he decides to head out on a bit of a quest to track down his Top 5 Most Memorable Breakups… and figure out what went wrong.
High Fidelity is a great place to start because it’s classic Hornby, exploring relationships, depression, and reluctant adulthood, all while riffing on music and obsession and the strategy behind a great mix tape.
“Is it wrong, wanting to be at home with your record collection? It’s not like collecting records is like collecting stamps, or beermats, or antique thimbles. There’s a whole world in here, a nicer, dirtier, more violent, more peaceful, more colorful, sleazier, more dangerous, more loving world than the world I live in; there is history, and geography, and poetry, and countless other things I should have studied at school, including music.”
-Nick Hornby, High Fidelity
If you like High Fidelity, you might also like About A Boy.
Next on our journey through Hornby books, we take a turn from his novels towards another great genre: books about books. I’ve been reading Hornby’s book recommendations for years now, and I’m to the point where I will read any book he recommends, just based on the fact that he recommends it. Ten Years in the Tub is a collection of a decade’s worth of “What I’ve Been Reading”, the column that Nick Hornby writes for The Believer. He uses the space not only to critique and recommend books, but to explore how reading blends in with and affects our lives.
“Books are, let’s face it, better than everything else. If we played cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go 15 rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form had to offer, then books would win pretty much every time.” -Nick Hornby, Ten Years in the Tub
If you like Ten Years in the Tub, you might also like Songbook.
We’re going to end this pathway at the beginning, with Nick Hornby’s first book. Fever Pitch is a memoir, but it’s also a meditation on football, obsession, and the thinking patterns of a fan. In my opinion, you do NOT need to be a sports fan to read this book; anyone who has ever found themselves caught up in something, books, music, films, or football, will recognize themselves in Fever Pitch.
“I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.”
-Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch
If you like Fever Pitch, you might like… everything else that Nick Hornby has written. You could try Slam (his foray into YA), or the new TV show based on About a Boy, or just work your way through his novels.
There are a lot of good Hornby-written words out there. Enjoy.