Hornby, Nick 1957–
Hornby, Nick 1957–
PERSONAL: Born April 17, 1957, in Redhill, Surrey, England; children: three. Education: Studied at Cambridge University. Hobbies and other interests: Working with his nonprofit organization TreeHouse to raise funds for autistic children.
ADDRESSES: Home—Highbury, North London, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Penguin Publicity, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England.
CAREER: Freelance journalist and writer; has worked as a teacher of English as a foreign language (TEFL) and a teacher of English. Cofounder, TreeHouse (nonprofit organization), London, England.
AWARDS, HONORS: William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, 1992, for Fever Pitch; E.M. Forster Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1999; W.H. Smith fiction award, 2002, for How to Be Good; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination for criticism, 2002, for Songbook; London Award, 2003.
Contemporary American Fiction (essays), Vision Press (London, England), 1992.
Fever Pitch (memoir), Gollancz (London, England), 1992, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor) My Favourite Year: A Collection of New Football Writing, Gollancz (London, England)/Witherby (London, England), 1993.
High Fidelity (novel), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 1995.
(Editor, with Nick Coleman) The Picador Book of Sportswriting, Picador (London, England), 1996.
Double A-Side: Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, Indigo (London, England), 1997.
About a Boy (novel), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Triple Platinum (contains Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, and About a Boy), Gollancz (London, England), 1999.
(Editor and author of introduction) Speaking with the Angel (short stories), Penguin (London, England), 2000.
How to Be Good (novel), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Songbook (essays), McSweeney's Books (San Francisco, CA/Brooklyn, NY), 2003, published as 31 Songs, Viking (London, England), 2003.
A Long Way Down (novel), Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Otherwise Pandemonium, Penguin (London, England), 2005.
The Polysyllabic Spree (newspaper column collection), McSweeney's Books (San Francisco, CA/Brooklyn, NY), 2005.
Author of foreword, A Fan's Notes: A Fictional Memoir by Frederick Exley, Yellow Jersey (London, England), 1998. Contributor to the London Sunday Times, Times Literary Supplement, Elle, Vogue, Esquire, Time Out, GQ, Time, and Literary Review. Former music critic for the New Yorker. Author of monthly column "Stuff I've Been Reading" for McSweeney's Believer magazine.
ADAPTATIONS: About a Boy and How to Be Good were both adapted for audiobooks, Putnam Berkley Audio, 1998 and 2001, respectively; High Fidelity was adapted for film, directed by Stephen Frears and starring John Cusack, Touchstone Pictures, 2000; About a Boy was adapted for film by Peter Hedges, directed by Chris and Paul Weitz and starring Hugh Grant, Universal, 2002; Fever Pitch was loosely adapted for film by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, and starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, Fox 2000 Pictures, 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Nick Hornby is a freelance journalist in England, where he has written on literary topics, football, and—in his fiction as well as his nonfiction—obsession. A writer noted for his sense of humor and earthiness, Hornby has written about his subjects in a way with which some critics strongly identify. His first novel, High Fidelity, was credited with capturing the voice of a generation. "A relaxed and natural writer, his appeal comes in part from a call to anyone who was a child in the 1960s," wrote Chris Savage King in the New Statesman and Society. While not a sportswriter, Hornby has also written movingly, wittily, and realistically, according to his critics, about soccer (known in England as football) and the obsessiveness with which its fans follow the game.
In his first book-length publication, 1992's Contemporary American Fiction, Hornby collected essays on American fiction writers of the "dirty realist" school, as it was defined in two issues of the influential British literary journal Granta. The works of writers such as Ann Beattie, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, and Tobias Wolff are discussed in terms of plot and Hornby's estimation of "what it is that makes each of the chosen authors interesting and worth reading," explained Modern Language Review contributor Deborah L. Madsen. Hornby's stated purpose is to give the British reader the basic aesthetic and cultural equipment needed to understand American writers. "This is a worthy critical project," Madsen remarked, "but it is dull; and the essays generally are a dull accumulation of plot summaries spiced with catalogue descriptions of narrative or fictional characteristics." Judie Newman stated in the Journal of American Studies that Contemporary American Fiction would have benefited from a preface or conclusion, which would serve to focus what is "more a serendipitous collection of loosely connected essays than a comprehensive survey." However, Newman added, despite the volume's limitations, it nonetheless "forms a lively, readable introduction to its chosen topic."
First published in England in 1992, Fever Pitch is Hornby's memoir of growing up an ardent football fan. From age eleven, when Hornby's parents separated and his father began taking him to see the North London Premier League club Arsenal play football, to his adulthood, when he measures future possibilities with women by their reaction to the knowledge that he follows the sport, he depicts his life as revolving around England's working-class sport. Critics asserted that the novel is more about obsession than about football. Laurence O'Toole, for instance, remarked in the New Statesman and Society: "Fever Pitch is the anatomy of a fixation exquisitely laid out and intelligently picked over."
Fever Pitch received praise from British critics for its wry humor, shrewd insight into human behavior, and moving tribute to North London in the 1960s. The book "is a sophisticated study of obsession, families, masculinity, class, identity, growing up, loyalty, depression and joy," wrote Brendan O'Keefe in the London Observer. "It's also a fine book about football." Although some American critics expressed the need for an occasional translation of the British slang terms Hornby employs, understanding of the author's themes was universal. "If [Hornby's] obsession sounds strange," observed Frederick C. Klein in the Wall Street Journal, "just substitute 'baseball' for 'soccer.'"
Hornby also edited the anthology My Favourite Year: A Collection of New Football Writing. Critics noted that, as in Fever Pitch, there is a strong theme of "mental illness" in My Favourite Year. The book "isn't much about football at all," wrote David Horspool in the Times Literary Supplement. "What we have instead is a kind of group therapy for football dependents." Despite the absence of descriptions of actual play, Horspool concluded: "Football fans will like this book, [and] it will also help others to understand why football can be so addictive."
Hornby's novel High Fidelity centers on a character with an obsession equally as compulsive as that depicted in Fever Pitch. Rob, the novel's protagonist, has just been abandoned by Laura, his live-in girlfriend, and for solace he resorts to his penchant for drawing up "top five" lists: he decides that Laura would fail to make his list of the top five most painful break-ups of his life. Rob runs a vintage record shop, and references to popular music and other elements of pop culture appear throughout the narration of his quest to get Laura back. "Sometimes this can pall," wrote the reviewer for Publishers Weekly, who maintained that the novel "is not quite as hip as it wishes to be." Others focused on Hornby's ability to make Rob a sympathetic character. "Mr. Hornby captures the loneliness and childishness of adult life with such precision and wit that you'll find yourself nodding and smiling," Mark Jolly remarked in the New York Times Book Review.
Critics expressed differing opinions about the merits of High Fidelity. In the London Review of Books, Jenny Turner wrote that the novel "is elegantly crafted, subtly plotted, and its first-party voice is a lively, charming offspring of [J.D.] Salinger and [Scottish writer James] Kelman and [Roddy Doyle's] young Paddy Clarke. And yet, the book still reads more like a superior piece of lifestyle journalism than like a work of art." Similarly, King concluded in his New Statesman and Society review: "This is a wonderful read, funny and moving. It's not a novel, exactly—but who cares?" Some critics offered praise for the book's emotional effect upon its readers. As Turner put it, "I have never seen my type of people so vividly rendered on the page before. And I have never before, since I was a grown-up, responded to a piece of writing so immediately either." Margaret Forster concluded in Spectator, "Such a relief actually to enjoy a novel and not worry about whether it is Great Literature…. I'll put High Fidelity on my own list of best five funny, light novels of contemporary times."
Hornby's other novels include About a Boy, How to Be Good, and A Long Way Down. The first of these titles is about a twelve-year-old, fatherless boy who forms a close friendship with a goalless man who has coasted through life on royalties earned from a song his father wrote. Some reviewers, such as People contributor Kyle Smith, found the novel to be "well-observed but laden with too many hugs and tears." A Publishers Weekly writer felt the subject matter of two lost souls bonding risked becoming "forced," too, "if it weren't for Hornby's sly humor and keen ear for dialogue."
In reviews of his more recent novels, several critics have also expressed some disappointment that the works have not matched the promise of Hornby's High Fidel-ity. How to Be Good is essentially a story "about the impossibility of being good in our modern world," according to Student BMJ writer Sabina Dosani. The tale concerns a troubled marriage involving a writer named David and his wife, Katie. Katie has cheated on David but breaks off the affair out of guilt, while David becomes a convert to religion at the hands of D.J. Goodnews. Becoming overzealous in his newfound beliefs, David invites Goodnews to move into their house and proceeds to start giving away the family's possessions. Although Dosani found some of the scenes to be funny, she added that the "treats do not compensate for several shortcomings," including an awkward writing style and problems with characterization.
Hornby's A Long Way Down has the unlikely premise of four suicidal characters meeting on a building's roof. Discovering that they are all there for the same reason, they become somewhat ashamed, and instead of killing themselves form a temporary pact to continue living—at least for a while. A darkly comic work, the novel has both flaws and good points, according to reviewers. Jon Zobenica, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, felt that it was difficult to empathize with the characters, especially when the author allows them to lapse into "often irritating testimonials." On the other hand, a writer for the Legal Intelligencer commented that A Long Way Down demonstrates that Hornby has "broadened his canvas and shown a willingness to take on darker themes," while School Library Journal contributor Jamie Watson concluded: "This somewhat philosophical work will appeal to Hornby's fans but has plenty to attract new audiences as well."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, July-August, 2005, Jon Zobenica, "You Might as Well Live," review of A Long Way Down, p. 148.
Book, March, 2001, "Hornby Gets His Wings," article about Speaking with the Angel and TreeHouse charity.
Booklist, February 1, 2001, Danise Hoover, review of Speaking with the Angel, p. 1041.
Journal of American Studies, December, 1993, Judie Newman, review of Contemporary American Fiction, pp. 432-433.
Kliatt, January, 2004, Daniel Levinson, review of Songbook, p. 37.
Legal Intelligencer, July 22, 2005, review of A Long Way Down.
Library Journal, June 15, 2002, Beth Farrell, review of How to Be Good, p. 109.
London Review of Books, May 11, 1995, Jenny Turner, review of High Fidelity, pp. 10-11.
Modern Language Review, Volume 89, number 4, 1994, Deborah L. Madsen, review of Contemporary American Fiction, pp. 991-992.
National Catholic Reporter, July 1, 2005, Jeff Severns Guntzel, "For Love of Books: Infectiously Entertaining Essays Reflect a Bibliophile's Passion."
New Statesman and Society, October 2, 1992, Laurence O'Toole, review of Fever Pitch, pp. 40-41; April 14, 1995, Chris Savage King, review of High Fidelity, pp. 47-48.
New York Times Book Review, September 3, 1995, Mark Jolly, review of High Fidelity, p. 6.
Observer (London, England), September 20, 1992, Brendan O'Keefe, review of Fever Pitch, p. 54.
People, June 1, 1998, Kyle Smith, review of About a Boy, p. 34.
Publishers Weekly, July 24, 1995, review of High Fidelity, p. 46.
School Library Journal, November, 2005, Jamie Watson, review of A Long Way Down, p. 181.
Spectator, April 8, 1993, Margaret Forster, review of High Fidelity, p. 35.
Student BMJ, February, 2003, Sabina Dosani, review of How to Be Good, p. 38.
Times Literary Supplement, December 17, 1993, David Horspool, review of My Favourite Year: A Collection of New Football Writing, p. 12.
Wall Street Journal, June 15, 1994, Frederick C. Klein, review of Fever Pitch.
Nick Hornby Home Page, http://www.nickhornby.co.uk (January 17, 2006).