Paul Broks talks fiction, football and cultural value with the godfather of lad-litby Paul Broks / August 27, 2009 / Leave a comment
It’s 6am and I’m surrounded by cardboard boxes. The day after tomorrow I’ll be moving to a house I hadn’t even set eyes on when I went up to London last month to meet Nick Hornby. I mention this because in front of me, open at page two, is Hornby’s book, The Complete Polysyllabic Spree (2006), a collection of columns he wrote for the Believer, the US literary magazine. I’ve underlined the following: “At the beginning of my writing career I reviewed a lot of fiction, but I had to pretend, as reviewers do, that I had read the books outside of space, time and self—in other words, I had to pretend that I hadn’t read them when I was tired and grumpy, or drunk, that I wasn’t envious of the author, that I had no agenda, no personal aesthetic or personal taste or personal problems.”
I have no inclination to break the boundaries of space, time and self, so let me explain that, tired, grumpy and a shade hung over, I’m cobbling this together in the process of dismantling my study, book by book, file by file, paper by yellowing paper. I’m writing for an hour, I’m packing for an hour. I’m listening to music and sometimes, to refresh my memory, I’m listening to Nick Hornby and me having a chat. The recording is playing at three-quarter speed so we both sound a bit spaced out. I have never reviewed fiction, and although Nick and I discussed his latest novel, Juliet, Naked, and new film, An Education this is not so much a review of those works as a conversational saunter around them.
I’d found us a quiet corner at the Royal Society of Medicine on Wimpole Street, where I stay sometimes. Members are free to discuss whatever they like with whomever they choose, but talking fiction and football with Nick Hornby for two hours in the temple of medical science had an agreeable tinge of misappropriation. There was some figuring out on the faces of passers-by as they sampled the conversation (“Jeffrey Archer? Well, he’s a can of Coke”). I confessed from the start that I don’t read many novels—just two this year, so far. The truth is I don’t finish many. I’ll give a book 50 pages or a hundred if it’s one I feel I really should have a crack at, a Booker winner, say, or…