Nick Hornby‘s a dude who can talk about “football” and Jane Austen comfortably. Cool, huh?
So, the long and short of his appearance was this: that Nick Hornby, in person, comes across as personable and well-rounded… If you like his novels- or his movies- you could go listen to him talk and pretend that you’re going out for a beer afterwards.
His latest book, Funny Girl, follows a female comedian whose career rose with the real advent of TV. As, the interviewer pointed out, his books are usually about finding support from an alternative sort of “found” family. “That’s dream isn’t it?” Hornby agreed- and the father and son pair seated in front of us chuckled appreciatively.
Hornby likened the real-life role of screenwriter to a stay-at-home mom. “You send everything out into the world, then you sit at home and wait… ‘They never write. They never call.'” So, he concluded, he probably enjoyed writing about the collaboration process for this tale more than participating in it!
Further, he wound up setting this one in the ’60’s- because he wanted to have the characters alive and still struggling to work now- but enjoyed the restraints that the historic setting imposed. “Everyone loves Jane Austen because there were rules in place then, so you can immediately understand the set of barriers that the characters face.” Whereas today, he admitted, almost anyone can do almost anything with relatively little drama, so it’s harder to create tension.
When the audience Q&A took over, he fielded several compliments on how well he, as a male, is able to represent realistic female characters- compliments he seemed to enjoy all the more because, as he said, “After my first few books, everyone was saying this is a guy that can write for guys, and I thought, ‘That’s less than half of the population: If I’m going to have any kind of a decent career, I’d better work on that!'” About those first few books, however, he still regrets how unrealistically perfect Laura, from High Fidelity, was. Since then, he’s made an effort to include at least one female character as flawed as the men around… which all the women in the audience certainly seemed to appreciate.
In fact, he seemed to reject the idea that there is this unbridle-able dichotomy between the male and female experience. He’s gotten a lot of praise lately for his screenplay, Wild, and the question, “How did you manage to get into her head?” To which he responds, in some disbelief, “She wrote a book. I just read the book she wrote! She laid everything right out there!”
But Nick Hornby isn’t as “cool” as some might have hoped. In response to the question from the audience regarding his feelings about his books being taught in schools, he shared an anecdote about an email he received from a young student. The student had the option of reading Fever Pitch or Pride and Prejudice for his paper, and Pride and Prejudice sounded boring but he liked football, so Fever Pitch won out… only thing is, when he went to the book store to buy the Cliff’s Notes, they didn’t seem to have them for Fever Pitch. So, he emailed Hornby directly, asking him some key questions: such as what are the major plot points, who are the main characters, etc. Nick Hornby wrote back saying, essentially, “Sorry, but it looks like it’s back to Jane Austen for you.” (I do like to pretend that the student in question just had a very flat sense of humor, but that is the optimist in me!)
Ideal Date: A soccer match. Because maybe he could explain the rules of both the game and fandom in a way that would make more sense to me: namely through comparisons to not just Jane Austen, but also EM Forster- another of my favorite authors who he named-dropped