When Aaron suggested we start a blog, my first thought was "Great!" -- my assumption being that I have no shortage of witty and informative comments to make about books I've read, authors I've just discovered, in short, literary themes essential to the culture.
In fact I had one idea, about George Packer's book "The Assassins' Gate," and after I posted that thought on my own blog, the well was pretty much dry. Then I wandered around for a week, thinking about that haircut I've been putting off and why I never remember to buy butter or fresh razor blades when I'm out, not because I really needed butter or fresh razor blades (you can live pretty well without them for at least a week), but because I didn't want to admit my one idea had come and gone. And then when Aaron, bless his heart, suggested that we write about "writers connected to Hobart" -- of whom there are five, I think -- my spirit was crushed completely. (I'm kidding. There are ten writers connected to Hobart.)
I think if you sit down to write anything, there comes that moment of terror (it lasts until you write the first couple of sentences) when you realize you really have nothing to say. In that moment it all comes home to you: Not only do you have nothing to say, but who do you think you are? Who should listen to you? P.J. O'Rourke, David Foster Wallace, Susan Orlean (all Hobart people, by the way), these people are geniuses. They have one fascinating idea every couple of seconds. Writing is not hard work for them. You, on the other hand, are not a writer. You are a fraud. These, anyway, are the thoughts that flash through my head. And boy am I happy to share them! But, seriously, it's like catching yourself just before saying something embarrassing at a party -- that feeling that you are about to shame yourself. You think, "OK, I'm about to do something stupid here. Better just stop now."
Which begs the question, "How does Nick Hornby do it?" Every month he cranks out a column for the Believer on the books he bought and read the previous month, and it's always funny and clever, humble and yet Hornby always has something to say. There are several tricks up Hornby's sleeve, I think. He talks books like anyone would talk baseball (in Hornby's case, of course, it's soccer, football to our friends across the pond), and he has fun with critics who take themselves too seriously, so the reader isn't put off. And he throws in delicious extraneous material from his life, and of course -- the most crucial trick -- the essays are not about writing, or the life of a writer (although of course they are about that, too) they are primarly about reading. In other words, the essays are casual, funny, and democratic.
So in that spirt, perhaps, we shouldn't get carried away with Hornby's obvious talent. He's only writing one column in an entire month, after all. (Change of tone! The guy's a hack with a few tricks, nothing more!) But it is amazing how consistently funny and clever Hornby is. And the second collection of these essays, Housekeeping v. The Dirt is a real treat, worth reading just for the soon-to-be-the-talk-of-the-literati Nicki Six Burrito Incident. I devoured it today (the Hornby book, not the burrito), and can recommend it to everyone reading this blog (Hi Jensen!) -- a group of readers who will, I'm sure, buy the book anyway.
"But," I hear you asking, "How is Nick Hornby a Hobart person?" Well, the truth is, he lives with us. I might as well tell you now: All of us at Hobart live in a castle, with a fire pole that we slide down, which we use to get to the panel truck we drive out of an underground cave to deliver the issues. We also have a card table, and a microwave. Most of the time in Hobart House (that's our name for it) we spend sitting around, playing cards and listening to Bob Dylan's "Theme Time Radio Hour." It's a hard life, being the editors of a fringe literary magazine. Elizabeth Ellen compels us to watch the latest Slavoj Zizek films, and Aaron strides around with a whip, wearing black leather chaps and nothing else, asking in a low voice how far along we are on our blog entries. Hornby claims to live in London, with his wife and three children, but that's just a dodge. He lives here. We know him. We've learned secrets about him. Things that, looking back, we wish we had never learned. His fear of the whip, for example, and how terrible he is at Hearts.
The point of this post is: Read Nick Hornby's Housekeeping v. The Dirt. I'm not kidding about the burrito incident. It's must-read stuff. You'll thank us for the tip.
-- Sean Carman