by Nick Hornby




  • Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story—Timothy B. Tyson
  • Candide—Voltaire
  • Oh the Glory of It All—Sean Wilsey

I want to take back some things I said last month. Or rather, I don’t so much want to take them back as to modify my tone, which is a pretty poor show, considering that writing, especially writing a column, is all about tone: what I’m essentially saying is, don’t read last month’s column, because it was all wrong. I was way too defensive, I see now, about my relative lack of literary consumption (two books, for the benefit of those of you who are too busy busy busy to retain the minutiae of my reading life from one month to the next). Shamefully—oh, God, it’s all coming back to me now—I tried to blame it on all sorts of things, including the London bombs, but the truth is that two books in a month isn’t so bad. There are lots of people who don’t get through two books a month. And anyway, what would happen if I had read no books? Obviously, I’d lose this job (although that’s assuming one of the Spree noticed). But apart from that? What would happen if I read no books ever? Let’s imagine someone who reads no books ever but polishes off every word of the New Yorker, the Economist, and their broadsheet newspaper of choice: well, this imaginary person would do more reading than me, because that’s got to be a couple of hundred thousand words a week, and would also be a lot smarter than me, if you use that rather limited definition of smart which involves knowing stuff about stuff. The New Yorker has humor in it and also provides an introduction to contemporary fiction and poetry. So the only major food group not covered is starch: in other words, the classics. And what would happen if we never read the classics? There comes a point in life, it seems to me, where you have to decide whether you’re a Person of Letters or merely someone who loves books, and I’m beginning to see that the book lovers have more fun. Persons of Letters have to read things like Candide or they’re a few letters short of the whole alphabet; book lovers, meanwhile, can read whatever they fancy.

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Nick Hornby is the author, most recently, of a novel titled A Long Way Down.

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