by Nick Hornby


  • The Accidental—Ali Smith
  • King Dork—Frank Portman


  • Tender Hooks—Beth Ann Fennelly
  • On Fire—Larry Brown
  • The Sixth Heaven—L. P. Hartley
  • Modern Baptists—James Wilcox
  • True Adventures with the King of Bluegrass—Tom Piazza
  • Digging to America—Anne Tyler
  • The Accidental—Ali Smith

It’s been an unsettling couple of months. It took me a while to get over the notion that I wanted to go and live in Oxford, Mississippi, after my recent visit there; and I’d only just become resigned to my lot here in north London when Arsenal, my football team, reached what we older fans still refer to as the European Cup Final. I’ve been watching Arsenal since 1968, and this was the first time they’d even got close, so the anticipation, followed by the crushing disappointment, pretty much destroyed all my appetite for books, if not for words: I probably sucked down a hundred thousand of the little bastards, as long as they formed themselves into previews of the game.

The Oxford thing was pretty serious for a while—although not, of course, as serious as the European Cup Final, which achieved a level of gravity that I have no wish to repeat in the time remaining to me on the planet. (Without going into too much detail, after early Arsenal domination, our keeper Jens Lehmann was calamitously sent off for a professional foul on Barcelona’s Samuel Eto’o after fifteen minutes or so. Arsenal defended heroically, despite being a man down, and then amazingly and sensationally took the lead through Sol Campbell, who’s had a miserable year both on and off the pitch, what with injuries, form, and the breakdown of his relationship with the designer Kelly Hoppen. Anyway, we held the lead for the best part of an hour, and then—after we’d missed good chances to go 2-0 up—fifteen minutes from the end we conceded an equalizer, followed shortly afterward by what turned out to be Barca’s winner. Like I said, this isn’t the time or the place to give you a minute-by-minute account of the game. Suffice it to say that the game was more draining for me than for any of the players, none of whom have been watching Arsenal since 1968.)

Sorry. Oxford. My plan was to get myself adopted by the poet Beth Ann Fennelly and her husband, the novelist Tom Franklin. They already have a young daughter, but I can look after myself, pretty much, and I was pretty sure that I could contribute to the household income even after sending money home to my own young family. It didn’t happen, in the end—something about some papers that didn’t come through, unless Tom and Beth Ann were just trying to let me down gently—but I still couldn’t shake the notion that their life in Mississippi was an enviable one. Maybe it would get boring after a while, drinking coffee in the sunshine on the veranda outside Square Books and walking down the road to visit Faulkner’s house, but surely not for a year or two?

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

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