McSweeney’s is proud to announce the publication of not one but two new Nick Hornby titles this week, just in time for holiday shopping! Ten Years in the Tub, the omnibus edition of a decade of Hornby’s beloved column “Stuff I’ve Been Reading,” is the perfect gift for fans and initiates alike: in addition to Hornby’s incandescently funny prose and wise words on the reading life, it provides an indispensable, wide-ranging reading list that will keep nightstands delightfully burdened for years to come. The deluxe edition of Hornby’s National Book Critics Circle–nominated Songbook celebrates the lasting joys of the fleeting art of pop music in twenty-six essays on the superfan’s favorite songs (from Van Morrison to Nelly Furtado to Royksopp), plus gorgeous illustrations by Marcel Dzama and a bonus list of Hornby’s most-loved songs of the decade, just in time to spruce up your holiday mix tapes.
Hornby completists and connoisseurs should check out The New Hornby Bundle for even deeper discounts and instant gratification on both titles. Below, please enjoy a sampling from Jess Walter’s introduction to Ten Years in the Tub.
The crazy lady in 13B leaned over and asked what I was reading. Hoping to avoid one of those torturous airplane conversations, I simply held up the cover of a newish story collection.
“No. I didn’t ask what you’re reading,” the woman said. “Why?”
Why? And in a moment of sheer stupefaction I will regret the rest of my life, I made the tragic mistake of looking up from my book.
Over the next two hours, I found out she didn’t read much herself, didn’t entirely “get books,” and wouldn’t believe what she read anyway since so much of it came from “media scumbags” who didn’t properly “support the troops” and were tools for “those government scumbags” who kept raising her taxes and trying to take away the assault rifles she and her husband needed to protect themselves from “scumbag criminals like that O. J. Simpson.”
Wait. She needed an assault rifle to protect herself from O. J. Simpson?
“That son of a bitch,” she informed me, “got away with murder.”
I wanted to point out that using a phrase like “got away with murder” to describe someone who actually got away with murder is a little bit nuts, like owning a china shop, having a bull run through it, and then describing the experience as like… well, you know.
Instead, I sat there pondering her question.
Why do I read?
Looking back, I wish I’d had this “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” omnibus with me.
It’s a very heavy book and I could’ve hit her with it.
Or I could’ve turned to just about any page.
In the decade that he’s been writing this column for the Believer (with the occasional month off to watch Friday Night Lights or the World Cup—two of the three acceptable excuses for not reading, the other being “captured by pirates”) Nick Hornby has created the most intelligent, engaging case for reading you’re ever likely to encounter.
Funny without being snarky, generous without sacrificing critical heft, Hornby-on-books is, forgive my English, bloody brilliant. “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” is unfailingly smart but without any of the obnoxious showy bits—lit theory, obscure Russian surnames, untranslated French (agreeably psycho-surrealist, the book nonetheless reflects Spankmeoff’s fromage de l’extrémité arrière)—that might serve to remind a poor reader that while he attended Eastern Washington University on a partial welding scholarship, the author happens to be a Cambridge man.
Nick, who actually happens to be a Cambridge man, has done much more than display his casual genius for the last ten years, however. He’s crafted a wise, thoughtful, and wry narrative out of a reading life—“a paper trail of theme and meaning,” just as he promised in that very first column (September 2003).