Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Nick Hornby”

Amurph11’s #CBR4 Holiday Gift Guide: Your Loveable Asshole of an Ex-Boyfriend (Review #41, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby)

*For those that missed it, I will be reviewing books for the month of December as part of a holiday gift guide series. Please enjoy my recommendation for the most recent entry: that endearing douchebag you used to date and still hang out with sometimes. 

I have this friend that I’ve known since college. You might call him an ex, if it weren’t for the fact that we were both too immature to actually date, preferring instead to vest all kinds of quasi-romantic indignities on each other under the auspices of friendship. Having put all that behind us, now we’re just buds who just tell each other about the romantic indignities we vest on other people. And in that spirit, we have this tradition: every once in a while, I get a text message from him comprised simply of a quote from High Fidelity, something like this:

“It would be nice to think that as I’ve got older times have changed, relationships have become more sophisticated, females less cruel, skins thicker, reactions sharper, instincts more developed. But there still seems to be an element of that evening in everything that happened to me since; all my other romantic stories seem to be a scrambled version of that first one.”

This usually serves as a sign that either he’s just broken up with someone, or that a break-up is in the offing. This was particularly fun when he dated a girl named Laura (whose name is shared by the main ex-girlfriend of High Fidelity’s Rob), but that’s beside the point. The point is High Fidelity the movie is his coping method—and mine, for that matter. This is because, in a pinch, High Fidelity the movie is the best cure for broken hearts, battered pride, and bruised ego. If you’ve got some time to mope, though, the book is even better. Rob Fleming is the voice of a generation, a Gen-X misanthrope who bumbled his way into a deadbeat career and a series of nowhere relationships. Rob has no idea what he wants from his own life or from the women around him.

High Fidelity is a book comprised about lists, which makes it very accessible for the endearing asshole in your life. Rob Fleming’s organizes his life by lists: lists of favorite side one track ones, lists of top five jobs if money and time were no object, and of course, the list of all time, top five break-ups: Alison Ashmore, Penny Hardwick, Sara Kendrew, Jackie Alden, and Charlie Nicholson. And, lest we forget, the late-breaking number one with a bullet (though he doesn’t admit it until halfway through the book, just out of spite): his most recent girlfriend, Laura.

After his breakup with Laura and the end of what was his most grown-up relationship yet, Rob spirals into the detritus of his past break-ups. Spurred on by a profoundly selfish desire to plumb the depths of his disappointment with women, he contacts each of his old girlfriends to figure out why they left him. The answer, in most cases, is that Rob usually had it coming. In three examples, it was a simple matter of his expectations not coming anywhere close to reality (think Tom in 500 Days of Summer). In the other two, he was just acting like an dick. And yet somehow, he sees himself as an innocent victim in every single one. His conversations with his past girlfriends do little to rectify this; in the case of Penny Hardwick, who reminds him that he dumped her because she wouldn’t sleep with him, his response is not remorse but barely disguised glee that he was the one that did the dumping. See, he had forgotten this, because Rob uses his breakups not as a way to take stock of himself and what he wants out of life, but instead to putter around in the House That Self-Pity Built until someone pays adequate attention to him. If this makes him sound annoying or unlikable, the reality is quite the opposite; Rob Fleming is incredibly likable, mostly because he is so recognizable. Sure, he’s an asshole, but he’s a self-aware asshole with semi-decent intentions. Don’t we all have one of those in our lives?

Eventually, Rob’s self-absorption is interrupted by tragedy—not his own, of course. There are very few opportunities for true hardship in Rob’s life, because he rarely risks himself enough to connect to anything or anybody that has the capacity to love him back. Nonetheless, tragedy strikes close enough to home to make him question his lifestyle choices, and he responds by attempting, in fits and starts, to grow up a little. Perhaps the most refreshingly authentic part of High Fidelity, however, is that Nick Hornby refuses to take the easy way out and redeem him completely. Though Rob does eventually grow up, the problems that beset him never really go away: he still finds himself attracted to the new, mysterious girl; he still occasionally regresses into whiny jerkdom; he still self-sabotages his career. But he learns—as we all do, if we’re lucky—to work around these things.

There is a blurb from Details that sums the book’s value up perfectly: “Keep this book away from your girlfriend—it contains too many of your secrets to let it fall into the wrong hands.” Even if the book weren’t such a damn joy to read, the insights on the male psyche contained in Rob’s slow, begrudging journey toward self-realization would be well worth the price of admission. But the best use of the $12 it costs in paperback would be to buy it for your ex-boyfriend. You know the one I’m talking about: the one who didn’t quite make it out of adolescence unscathed, who is convinced that he’s one of the Nice Guys even when he’s acting like an asshole, the one who is profoundly sensitive when it comes to slights against his person and profoundly insensitive when it comes to absolutely anyone else, but above all the one who in spite of everything else is a genuinely good-hearted dude in need of a little guidance. Buy him this book. And when he inevitably calls you to whine over another break-up, buy him the movie, too.

Alli’s #CBR4 Review #50: Slam by Nick Hornby


Slam” by Nick Hornby is another book that I picked up during my impromptu Chapters shopping spree. I was trying to think of another book that I would like to purchase and often what I will do is choose an author that I have enjoyed in the past and just blindly pick another of that authors books and see what happens. So when I started reading this book I didn’t really know what it would be about, although I did guess a bit of it based on the cover (judging a book by it’s cover, how improper of me).

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Alli’s #CBR4 Review #11: How to be Good by Nick Hornby

On its surface, “How to be Good” is about a woman struggling to decide whether or not to leave her marriage. Katie is a doctor and she has been married to David, a grumpy writer who is also the primary caregiver for their two children. Katie starts off the book explaining that she has no major issues with her husband but she is generally unhappy. This makes her pose the question if malcontent is enough of a reason to end a marriage.

Katie’s tells her husband that she wants a divorce, but David refuses to grant her one, and Katie waffles back and forth between wanting to split up and wanting to stay together. David has always been cantankerous, in fact he writes a column in which he is described as being the “angriest man in Holloway”. Then one day he throws his back out and goes to see a fellow named DJ GoodNews (he insists on being called GoodNews at all times) who is a spiritual healer. After that things get strange, David suddenly becomes all positive and nice and obsessively charitable.

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A-Schaef’s #CBR4 Review #04: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

I am a great fan of Nick Hornby. I once told a girlfriend that reading High Fidelity would give her all the secrets to the way I think. I really find myself in Hornby’s insecure, culturally-aware, reasonably pretentious protagonists. I think a lot of people feel the same way. To me, that’s one of the magical things about his writing. He can tell a story about a middle-aged woman in coastal England who is dying to have a baby and meets a bygone rock star that her ex-boyfriend obsessed over and I can still find myself in her words with no trouble.

The prose in Juliet is some of the nicest I’ve read in a long time. I say nice because he doesn’t go into long, poetic phrases like Oscar Wilde, but it’s perfectly suited to the story being told. It’s very casual in its wording, yet will dip into the deeper meanings of the things going on almost seamlessly. The book loses a lot of that goodwill when it tries to take advantage of its modern setting and uses an internet message board format, but it’d not distracting enough that I would lose my affinity for the rest of the story.

The characters in this book feel so familiar right away that there is really very little time spent in idle exposition. We meet the characters and immediately see them as the people they’ve known all their lives see them. Even a character who is purposefully wrapped in mystery for most of the story comes into it feeling like an old boot or some other worn-out cliche for familiarity. They just enter the story, scars and all, and we get to see them grow, knowing everything about who they already are.

My one major gripe here is that the man does not know how to end a novel. Even High Fidelity, which would rate in my top 5 favourite books of all time, had an ending that left me unsatisfied and frustrated. Juliet‘s ending isn’t even just frustrating. It barely ends. The last words of the book are a punchline at the expense of one of the main characters. It seems disrespectful to the character, and to the reader who has developed a love for the characters in the story.

I would still recommend the book, even though I was frustrated by it. Just don’t come crying to me when you don’t like the ending.

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