by Nick Hornby


  • Field Notes From a Catastrophe—Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Imperium—Robert Harris
  • Jimi Hendrix Turns 80—Tim Sandlin
  • The Zero—Jess Walter
  • Fun Home—Alison Bechdel


  • Winter’s Bone—Daniel Woodrell
  • Will This Do?—Auberon Waugh
  • Because I Was Flesh—Edward Dahlberg
  • Clear Water—Will Ashon
  • My Life with the Hustler—Jamie Griggs Tevis

“What we need,” one of those scary critics who write for the serious magazines said recently, “is more straight talking about bad books.” Well, of course we do. It’s hard to think of anything we need more, in fact. Because then, surely, people would stop reading bad books, and writers would stop writing them, and the only books that anyone read or wrote would be the ones that the scary critics in the serious magazines liked, and the world would be a happier place, unless you happen to enjoy reading the books that the scary critics don’t like—in which case the world would be an unhappier place for you. Tough.

Weirdly, the scary critic was attempting to review a book she did like at the time, so you might have thought that she could have forgotten about bad books for a moment; these people, however, are so cross about everything that they can’t ever forget about bad books, even when they’re supposed to be thinking about good ones. They believe that if you stop thinking about bad books even for one second, they’ll take over your house, like cockroaches. She got distracted mid-review by the Believer, and its decision—which was taken over three years ago—to try and play nice when talking about the arts; some people are beginning to come to terms with it now, not least because they can see that very few pages of the magazine are given over to reviews. (Do we have to do the straight talking even if we’re interviewing someone? Wouldn’t that be rude? And pointless, given that presumably we’d be interviewing someone whose work we didn’t like?)

The scary woman is not a big fan of this column, which is sad, of course, but hardly a surprise. What’s more disappointing to me is that she and I go way back, right to the time when we used to bump into each other on the North of England stand-up comedy circuit, and now we seem to have fallen out. People in Bootle still talk about her impression of the Fonz. Why did she want to throw all that merriment away and become a literary editor? To borrow an old line from the late, great Tommy Cooper: we used to laugh when she said she wanted to be a comedian. We’re not laughing now.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Nick Hornby is the author, most recently, of Housekeeping vs. the Dirt, a collection of his columns from this magazine.

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