by Nick Hornby


  • Sons of Mississippi—Paul Hendrickson
  • Last Days of Summer—Steve Kluger
  • True Adventures with the King of Bluegrass—Tom Piazza
  • On Fire—Larry Brown
  • The Devil’s Highway—Luis Alberto Urrea
  • Happiness—Darrin M. McMahon
  • The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure—Jack Pendarvis


  • Into the Wild—John Krakauer
  • The Boy Who Fell From the Sky—Ken Dornstein
  • The March—E. L. Doctorow
  • Freakonomics—Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Last month I read Marjane Satrapi’s two Persepolis books and Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country, and I seem to recall that I described the experience as somewhat gloomy. Ha! That was nothing! I didn’t know I was born! I now see that the time I spent in Satrapi’s horrific postrevolutionary Iran, and the time I gave over to Vonnegut telling us that the world is ending, were the happiest days of my life. The end of the world? Bring it on! With the honorable exception of Freakonomics, the most cheerful book I read this month was Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, the story of how and why a young man walked into the Alaskan wilderness and starved (or perhaps poisoned) himself to death. Into the Wild wins the Smiley Award because it has a body count of one. Ken Dornstein’s memoir The Boy Who Fell from the Sky begins and ends with the Lockerbie disaster in 1988, when a Pan Am plane blew up over a Scottish village, killing all 259 passengers, including the author’s older brother David. And E. L. Doctorow’s novel The March describes William Sherman’s journey from Atlanta up to North Carolina, and just about everybody dies, some of them in ways that you don’t want to spend a long time thinking about.

I was actually in North Carolina when I finished The March—this is something I like to do when I’m particularly enjoying a novel, despite the cost. (Did you know that there’s no such planet as Titan? Vonnegut just made it up. They could have put that on the jacket, no? Oh well. You live and learn.) A couple of days later I passed the book on to one of my travelling companions, Dave Bielanko of the mighty band Marah, and he in return gave me the Krakauer book. It’s what you do when you’re on the road. Oh, yeah. There’s a lot of, like, brotherhood and stuff. We were actually on the road between Memphis, Tennessee, and Oxford, Mississippi, a journey that takes approximately ninety minutes, and those forty-five minutes were the only chunk of road I experienced. But never mind! I was there, swapping books, and, you know, looking out of the window. (And Oxford, Mississippi, is yet another place in the U.S. that I want to move to. Everyone there is a writer, or a musician, or someone who hasn’t yet bothered doing either thing but could if he or she wanted to. And the mayor runs the bookstore, and in Faulkner’s house you can read the plot outline he wrote in pencil on the wall, and you can see the can of dog repellent he kept by his desk, and the sun shines a lot.)

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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

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