by Nick Hornby


  • Donkey Gospel—Tony Hoagland
  • I Never Liked You—Chester Brown
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin—Lionel Shriver


  • Random Family—Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
  • What Narcissism Means to Me—Tony Hoagland
  • Bobby Fischer Goes to War—David Edmonds and John Eidinow

The Polysyllabic Spree—the ninety-nine young and menacingly serene people who run the Believer—recently took their regular columnists out for what they promised would be a riotous and orgiastic night on the town. Now, I have to confess that I’ve never actually seen a copy of this magazine, due to an ongoing dispute with the Spree (I think that as a contributor I should be entitled to a free copy, but they are insisting that I take out a ten-year subscription—does that sound right to you?), so I was completely unaware that there is only one other regular columnist, the Croatian sex lady, and she didn’t show. I suspect that she’d been given a tip-off, probably because she’s a woman (the Spree hold men responsible for the death of Virginia Woolf) and stayed at home. It shouldn’t have made much difference, though, because you can have fun with a hundred people, right?

Wrong. The Spree’s idea of a good time was to book tickets for a literary event—a reading given by all the nominees for the National Book Critics’ Circle Awards—and sit there for two and a half hours. Actually, that’s not quite true: they didn’t sit there. Such is their unquenchable passion for the written word that they were too excited to sit. They stood, and they wept, and they hugged each other, and occasionally they even danced—to the poetry recitals, and some of the more up-tempo biography nominees. In England we don’t often dance at dances, let alone readings, so I didn’t know where to look. Needless to say, drink, drugs, food, and sex played no part in the festivities. But who needs any of that when you’ve got literature?

I did, however, discover a couple of books as a result of the evening: Tony Hoagland’s What Narcissism Means to Me, which didn’t win the poetry award, and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family, which didn’t win the nonfiction award. I haven’t read the books that did win, and therefore cannot comment on the judges’ inexplicable decisions, but they must be pretty good, because Hoagland’s poems and LeBlanc’s study of life in the Bronx were exceptional.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Nick Hornby is the author of five books, most recently Songbook. He lives in north London.

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