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Nick Hornby, Talking 'Bout 'An Education' (And More)

Sep 24, 2010 (Fresh Air)

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This interview was originally broadcast on Sept. 30, 2009. Juliet, Naked was recently released in paperback.

Writer Nick Hornby is gearing up for a busy fall. He wrote the screenplay for the much anticipated film An Education, which will be released next month, and his newest novel, Juliet, Naked, hits bookstores this week.

Juliet, Naked, like Hornby's first novel, High Fidelity, explores the complex world of music fanaticism. Duncan, a young British man stuck in a post-collegiate mindset, is obsessed with an obscure rock musician named Tucker Crowe, who disappeared from the public eye decades ago after a mysterious event that supposedly took place in a public restroom. Duncan dedicates his time and energy to becoming an expert on all things Crowe, a "Crowologist." His obsession even leads him and his girlfriend, Annie, on a cross-country trek of America in search of Crowe landmarks (including the famous restroom.)

When Annie finally tires of Duncan's antics, she posts a message on his Tucker Crowe Web site that, in an odd turn of events, attracts the attention of the musician himself. Crowe e-mails Annie directly, which opens the door to a bizarrely unexpected triangle.

Hornby says his inspiration for the book came from an article he read about Sly Stone, the reclusive lead singer of Sly and the Family Stone.

"The journalist had managed to fix up an interview with him, and eventually, he turned up for it," Hornby tells Terry Gross. "There was just all sorts of narrative thrill in that — somebody appearing after a long absence, and a fan's excitement meeting this person — that something about it stuck in my mind, and a lot of the other ideas in the book accumulated around that."

In the novel, Hornby describes Duncan and Annie as "stuck in a perpetual post-graduate world where gigs and books and films mattered more to them than other people their age." Such a description might seem unfavorable, but Hornby means it as a compliment.

"It's really a complaint about everybody else," says Hornby. "I think we all know that as we get older, we — it's more of a struggle to keep in touch with those things. The things that usually stop us from keeping in touch [are] children, and Duncan and Annie don't have any."

Children, and the effects that they have on adult behavior, factor importantly in the novel. Hornby, who has three children, says that they have had a profound effect on the way he looks at life.

"I watch movies with them. We go and see all the animated movies," he says. "In some ways, I'm less in touch with the things that used to mean a lot to me and more in touch with things that didn't. But it's still — I still have very much a relationship with contemporary popular culture through them."

Another theme in the novel is the idea of popular culture as a subject worthy of scholarly attention. Hornby says it's important to note that while other people may view Duncan as an obsessive fan, Duncan sees his interests as much more elevated.

"I kind of conceived him as a scholar," says Hornby. "If his obsession had been with, you know, Marlowe or Gerard Manley Hopkins, he would have been gainfully employed in a university somewhere. But because it's somebody that very few people have heard of, then of course he has to do another job."

Hornby enjoys highlighting the differences in the way in which people view themselves, as opposed to the way in which they are viewed by others. And with his screenplay for An Education, Hornby seems to be taking steps to disprove a few theories about himself. The movie, starring Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard, explores the coming of age of a lower-middle class British girl who tastes a different type of lifestyle when she falls in with a moneyed set of semi-criminals in 1960s Britain. It's based on a memoir by journalist Lynn Barber.

"Well, I guess first of all, I feel that I accept that I'm famous for writing about certain kind of men. But the last few books, I think, I've moved from that a little bit," he says. "When I read the [Lynn Barber] piece, I identified with her completely.

"I grew up in a similar suburb to hers, and I felt I was going to be crushed by the lack of culture around me," says Hornby. "It wasn't that, you know, it was a difficult upbringing in any way. I don't think Lynn's upbringing was difficult. But she was scared that she wasn't going to get access to the things that she wanted."

An Education isn't Hornby's first foray into film; many of his novels have been made into movies, including About a Boy and High Fidelity. His novel Fever Pitch, about a soccer-obsessed English teacher, was adapted for the silver screen, then re-adapted for American audiences with a Boston Red Sox fanatic (Jimmy Fallon, playing opposite Drew Barrymore) as the lead.

Hornby says that he began to tackle the screenplay of An Education by looking at it as "the female equivalent of Fever Pitch, where soccer seemed to provide some kind of direct route into the life of the city." Once he established that similarity, that instantly recognizable drive to escape a small town, he says, the rest just came naturally.

"I thought it was painful and funny at the same time," he says. "And most things just kind of go into a groove and stay there. They're either funny or they're not funny. And I love things that make you laugh and cry, and that material doesn't come around very often."

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New In Paperback, Sept. 13-19

Sep 15, 2010

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Juliet, Naked

By Nick Hornby

You don't buy a Van Morrison CD hoping to hear him do something radically different, and you shouldn't crack the latest Nick Hornby novel, Juliet, Naked, expecting anything more, or less, than another smart, soft-centered tale of hapless manchildren, precocious actual children and sensible women. The new novel, like Hornby's first novel, High Fidelity, explores the complex world of music fanaticism. Duncan, a young British man stuck in a post-collegiate mindset, is obsessed with obscure rock musician Tucker Crowe, who disappeared from the public eye decades ago. When Duncan's girlfriend, Annie, tires of Duncan's antics, she posts a message on his Tucker Crowe website that attracts the attention of the musician himself, opening the door to an unexpected triangle.

416 pages, $15, Riverhead Trade


Homer & Langley

A Novel

By E.L. Doctorow

E.L. Doctorow altered the literary landscape 35 years ago when he insinuated "real" characters like J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford and Harry Houdini into the fictional setting of Ragtime. He's back in the groove with Homer & Langley, his slyly inventive, uproarious 12th novel, which uses the real-life Collyer brothers as a jumping-off point for a kaleidoscopic trip through 20th-century America. The strange hermit brothers made headlines in 1947 when their bodies were discovered in a Fifth Avenue mansion that was chockablock with more than 100 tons of junk and old newspapers related to a decades-long project to develop an "eternally current dateless newspaper."

224 pages, $15, Random House


Half Broke Horses

A True-Life Novel

By Jeannette Walls

Jeanette Walls' childhood was difficult enough to warrant a bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle, which begins with her homeless mother rummaging through the garbage. What could possibly come next? Half Broke Horses is a novelistic re-creation of the life of Walls' eccentric grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. Smith was a mustang breaker, schoolteacher, bootlegger, rancher and bush pilot in Texas and Arizona who lost everything she had in the Great Depression. The New York Times compared the book favorably to the memoirs of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

288 pages, $15, Scribner


Stitches

A Memoir

By David Small

Award-winning children's book author and illustrator David Small has written a chilling, unsentimental, beautifully illustrated memoir of his childhood that's strictly for grownups. From the safe remove of adulthood, Stitches reads like a how-not-to guidebook on child-rearing. Consider: Small's father, a radiologist in the 1950s, repeatedly gave the young boy high-dose X-ray treatments for his sinus problems. When Small was 14, he awoke from what he'd been told was a routine operation to find that he could no longer speak: a cancerous vocal cord had been removed, leaving him with a scar stretching from behind his right ear to the top of his chest. This book was a finalist for the National Book Award last year — only the second graphic novel to receive that distinction.

329 pages, $15.95, W. W. Norton & Co.


The Unnamed

By Joshua Ferris

Tim Farnsworth, the main character in Joshua Ferris' new novel, The Unnamed, is a partner in a high-powered law firm in Manhattan. He is married with a young daughter. And he cannot stop walking. Tim's condition "is more of a disease than a compulsion," Ferris tells NPR's Melissa Block. "It's not really a feeling he has to walk, but really his body overtaking him and forcing him to walk."  However, our reviewer found this exploration of the disconnect between mind and body, and the distrustful truce that exists between the individual and society, a "slimmer and considerably slighter effort" than the "substantive, complex and tonally variegated accomplishment" of Ferris' first novel, And Then We Came to the End.

320 pages, $13.99, Reagan Arthur/Back Bay Books


Charlotte Abbott is the editor of "New In Paperback."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
Nick Hornby (Getty Images)

Getting 'An Education' (And More) From Nick Hornby

Sep 30, 2009 (Fresh Air)

See this

Juliet, Naked 'Juliet Naked' cover detail 'Juliet Naked' Stitches The Unnamed

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Writer Nick Hornby is gearing up for a busy fall. He wrote the screenplay for the much anticipated film An Education, which will be released next month, and his newest novel, Juliet, Naked, hits bookstores this week.

Juliet, Naked, like Hornby's first novel, High Fidelity, explores the complex world of music fanaticism. Duncan, a young British man stuck in a post-collegiate mindset, is obsessed with an obscure rock musician named Tucker Crowe, who disappeared from the public eye decades ago after a mysterious event that supposedly took place in a public restroom. Duncan dedicates his time and energy to becoming an expert on all things Crowe, a "Crowologist." His obsession even leads him and his girlfriend, Annie, on a cross-country trek of America in search of Crowe landmarks (including the famous restroom; read an excerpt).

When Annie finally tires of Duncan's antics, she posts a message on his Tucker Crowe Web site that, in an odd turn of events, attracts the attention of the musician himself. Crowe e-mails Annie directly, which opens the door to a bizarrely unexpected triangle.

Hornby says his inspiration for the book came from an article he read about Sly Stone, the reclusive lead singer of Sly and the Family Stone.

"The journalist had managed to fix up an interview with him, and eventually, he turned up for it," Hornby tells Terry Gross. "There was just all sorts of narrative thrill in that — somebody appearing after a long absence, and a fan's excitement meeting this person — that something about it stuck in my mind, and a lot of the other ideas in the book accumulated around that."

In the novel, Hornby describes Duncan and Annie as "stuck in a perpetual post-graduate world where gigs and books and films mattered more to them than other people their age." Such a description might seem unfavorable, but Hornby means it as a compliment.

"It's really a complaint about everybody else," says Hornby. "I think we all know that as we get older, we — it's more of a struggle to keep in touch with those things. The things that usually stop us from keeping in touch [are] children, and Duncan and Annie don't have any."

Children, and the effects that they have on adult behavior, factor importantly in the novel. Hornby, who has three children, says that they have had a profound effect on the way he looks at life.

"I watch movies with them. We go and see all the animated movies," he says. "In some ways, I'm less in touch with the things that used to mean a lot to me and more in touch with things that didn't. But it's still — I still have very much a relationship with contemporary popular culture through them."

Another theme in the novel is the idea of popular culture as a subject worthy of scholarly attention. Hornby says it's important to note that while other people may view Duncan as an obsessive fan, Duncan sees his interests as much more elevated.

"I kind of conceived him as a scholar," says Hornby. "If his obsession had been with, you know, Marlowe or Gerard Manley Hopkins, he would have been gainfully employed in a university somewhere. But because it's somebody that very few people have heard of, then of course he has to do another job."

Hornby enjoys highlighting the differences in the way in which people view themselves, as opposed to the way in which they are viewed by others. And with his screenplay for An Education, Hornby seems to be taking steps to disprove a few theories about himself. The movie, starring Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard, explores the coming of age of a lower-middle class British girl who tastes a different type of lifestyle when she falls in with a moneyed set of semi-criminals in 1960s Britain. It's based on a memoir by journalist Lynn Barber.

"Well, I guess first of all, I feel that I accept that I'm famous for writing about certain kind of men. But the last few books, I think, I've moved from that a little bit," he says. "When I read the [Lynn Barber] piece, I identified with her completely.

"I grew up in a similar suburb to hers, and I felt I was going to be crushed by the lack of culture around me," says Hornby. "It wasn't that, you know, it was a difficult upbringing in any way. I don't think Lynn's upbringing was difficult. But she was scared that she wasn't going to get access to the things that she wanted."

An Education isn't Hornby's first foray into film; many of his novels have been made into movies, including About a Boy and High Fidelity. His novel Fever Pitch, about a soccer-obsessed English teacher, was adapted for the silver screen, then re-adapted for American audiences with a Boston Red Sox fanatic (Jimmy Fallon, playing opposite Drew Barrymore) as the lead.

Hornby says that he began to tackle the screenplay of An Education by looking at it as "the female equivalent of Fever Pitch, where soccer seemed to provide some kind of direct route into the life of the city." Once he established that similarity, that instantly recognizable drive to escape a small town, he says, the rest just came naturally.

"I thought it was painful and funny at the same time," he says. "And most things just kind of go into a groove and stay there. They're either funny or they're not funny. And I love things that make you laugh and cry, and that material doesn't come around very often."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Read full story transcript

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR
'Juliet Naked' cover detail ()

Nick Hornby's Latest Novel: New Tune, Same Key

by Jennifer Reese
Sep 29, 2009

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'Juliet Naked' Juliet, Naked 'Juliet Naked' Stitches The Unnamed

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You don't buy a Van Morrison CD hoping to hear him do something radically new and different, and you shouldn't crack the latest Nick Hornby novel, Juliet, Naked, expecting anything more, or less, than another smart, soft-centered tale of hapless manchildren, precocious actual children and sensible women. This is what Hornby does, he does it well, and he's done it again.

For the past 15 years, Duncan and Annie, an unmarried couple on the verge of middle age, have stagnated together in a dumpy British seaside town. Duncan, a classic Hornby type, is an obsessive fan of Tucker Crowe, a singer-songwriter who, after producing a brilliant breakup album called Juliet, mysteriously dropped out of sight in 1986. Duncan devotes himself to parsing Crowe trivia and posting scholarly disquisitions on a fan site.

Annie — intelligent and more attractive than she knows (another Hornby type) — has recently begun to find Duncan maddening. For one, she wants a baby, and Duncan is just not a family man. For another, she's wearying of his condescension: "Listening to music was something that she did, too, frequently and with great enjoyment, and Duncan somehow managed to spoil it, partly by making her feel that she was no good at it." Then he has an affair.

Annie posts a tart essay on Duncan's Web site that attracts the attention of the actual, elusive Tucker Crowe, thereby lucking into the sweetest revenge ever dreamed of by a woman who squandered her youth on a faithless loser. It's darkly comic material, the Duncan-Annie-Tucker triangle, and Hornby could exploit it more ruthlessly. He could delve into Duncan's humiliation at losing his lover to his idol — and, perhaps even more painfully, his idol to his lover. Hornby could, reasonably, question Annie's motives. Or he could plant a sordid secret in Crowe's past to explain his long ago disappearance.

But that is not the kind of fiction Hornby writes. He wants the best for his characters, and ultimately expects the best from them as well. Uptempo, charming and occasionally wistful — this is Hornby's music.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Missing some content? Check the source: NPR
Copyright(c) 2014, NPR

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