Books

Seeing Nick Hornby in the Snow

Madison Gallup ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

On Tuesday, February 3, 2015, two brave Emersonians ventured out into the snowy terrain to see Nick Hornby speak in Cambridge. Native Floridians, they could not begin to anticipate how the fifteen minute journey they usually took to get to the Harvard area could stretch into over an hour and a half because of the snow. There were many opportunities to turn back, but with Nick Hornby on the other side it was reason enough to power through. This is the power of Nick Hornby; his humor and presence have the uncanny ability to immediately change someone’s mood for the better.

Ethan Gilsdorf (L) and Nick Hornby. Photo credit: Mallory Dobry
Ethan Gilsdorf and Nick Hornby. Photo Credit: Madison Gallup/Emertainment Monthly.

Upon arriving at the church, laughter could immediately be heard from inside the nave. These sounds of a happy, engaged audience were closely followed by Hornby’s British accent echoing through the room. The range of questions in just the final twenty minutes of the event captures the many aspects of Nick Hornby’s personality well. Hornby explained how much he enjoyed writing songs with Ben Folds, who reached out to Hornby to write songs from a first person perspective when Folds felt himself running low on material. Hornby revealed that he had recently spoken to Folds and was eager to collaborate again. A string of football (soccer) related questions closely followed, which seemed odd for an author event (though not necessarily out of left field for the author who wrote Fever Pitch, a book revolving around Hornby’s obsession with soccer). Hornby handled each soccer question with a great mixture of wit and seriousness. None of his answers seemed the least bit dismissive and he provided funny insights with each story he recounted.

Not all of the questions were quite so silly or trivial though. When asked about the struggle of publishing for writers who do not speak English as their first language, Hornby’s response was thoughtful, “the biggest obstacle to being a writer is the job itself, not the language.” Rather than dissuade people from writing, Hornby’s response was candid.  While the career is not glamorous, Hornby said that ultimately it is very rewarding. It was evident how much Hornby is grateful for the work he gets to do.

This balance between sincerity and wit makes Hornby such an engaging presence and makes his work so inherently readable (or listenable or watchable in some cases). Whether he is tackling the screenplay for Wild—because of how important and intriguing he finds the story—or crafting a song alongside Folds called “Levi Johnston’s Blues”—which makes Levi Johnston, the man who married Sarah Palin’s daughter after she became pregnant with his child, into a sympathetic figure—Hornby demonstrates a nuanced, thoughtful, and often humorous view of the world around him.

Funny Girl, Hornby’s new novel that he came to Harvard to promote, promises to be yet another example of this author at his best. Set in London in the 1960s, this story is centered around former beauty queen and aspiring comedian, Sophie Straw. There is a TV show within the book called Barbara (and Jim) whose scripts are integrated into the novel along with reviews written about this fictional show. Also accompanying them are photos from the time the novel is set.

Hornby’s newest novel is also noteworthy for featuring a female protagonist, a pattern that began developing with his work on the film An Education and his recent film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. Before these works, many of his most famous pieces were centered around single men. High Fidelity and About a Boy are two of his most known novels, in part because each has been adapted into a film. It will be exciting to read Hornby’s honest and funny voice translated into a woman’s story.

Overall this event was a success, and everyone around during the signing wore bright smiles as they eagerly waited to meet the man himself. Hornby talked with each person who came up to him, and took pictures with anyone who asked. Nobody should bet against the charismatic powers of Nick Hornby. He was even able to turn a snowy nightmare of a night into a memorable and fun experience.

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