20 Questions

Nick Hornby

by Karen Zarker

13 September 2009

Nick Hornby tells PopMatters 20 Questions about his affiliation with Seinfeld’s George Costanza, his soon-to-be-released album with Ben Folds, and this great bargain he got from a Russian website…
Photo by
© Sigrid Estrada 

Aimless… obsessive… think Rob of High Fidelity, or Marcus of About a Boy… such is the nature of his characters – hardly the nature of the driven, disciplined man behind them. Nick Hornby’s latest such character, Duncan (Juliet, Naked), is an exercise in the nature of fandom, such as it in these online-driven days. Hornby tells PopMatters 20 Questions about his affiliation with Seinfeld’s George Costanza, his soon-to-be-released album with Ben Folds, and this great bargain he got from a Russian website…

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Juliet, Naked

Nick Hornby

US: Sep 2009

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
The last book that made my cry was Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.

The last film… I have to say, An Education, which I scripted has made me cry just about every time I’ve seen it. I’m not crying at anything I did, though. I’m crying at the work of Carey Mulligan and Alfred Molina. That’s some pretty sad work.

2. The fictional character most like you?
I respond with alarming sympathy and understanding to George Costanza. It’s a toss-up between him and D’Artagnan from The Three Musketeers, although sometimes I wonder whether in a past life I knew the character Rob from High Fidelity.

3. The greatest album, ever?
I think London Calling covers many of the major food groups, so I could live off that for a while.

I’d need some other things, though, if I were to survive on a desert island: Al Green’s Greatest Hits, Horses by Patti Smith, The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle by Bruce Springsteen, the first Kate and Anna McGarrigle album (Kate & Anna McGarrigle), and I’m really looking forward to the next Avett Brothers. I have every confidence that it too, will be one of the greatest albums ever. No pressure, boys.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
They’re both science fiction, right? With robots and laser guns and stuff? You might as well ask me to choose between Carmen and The Magic Flute.

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About a Boy

Nick Hornby

US: May 1999

5. Your ideal brain food?
I’m beginning to wonder whether something that would, to the sane onlooker, appear to be the opposite of brain food – a game on my iPod called Zuma – might in fact be performing some kind of crucial creative function. My theory is that my brain completely empties while I’m playing it, allowing my subconscious mind to creep into the void and provide the material for novels and screenplays.

That could work, right? Scientifically speaking? Either that or I’m wasting an awful lot of time just playing a game.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
Nothing I’ve written was easy, but at least I wasn’t going against the grain. I did it because I thought I could, and because I wanted to.

Learning to drive, though, at age 42, was not easy. I didn’t want to do it, and I didn’t think I could. I passed my test, though. First time.

7. You want to be remembered for…?
Learning to drive.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Charles Dickens, James Brown, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson,  Bruce Springsteen, Little Richard, Anne Tyler, Preston Sturges and 412 others.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
The Harry Potter series. A vulgar answer, I know, but there we are. And it’s hard to imagine that I could have come up with the Oresteia, or “Hey Bo Diddley”. They’re just not me.

I don’t wish I’d produced anything else, other than the next thing I’m supposed to be doing. I’m really happy for other people to do it, and for me to read it or watch it or listen to it.

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High Fidelity

Nick Hornby

US: Aug 1996

10. Your hidden talents ... ?
I have already exposed and overstretched everything I have.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
My friend Giles told me to take bendy straws into hospital when my wife went into labour. I did. As a consequence, she was able to drink from any weird position she got into. I don’t think there will ever be a piece of advice that is more use to anyone, or makes more sense.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
My wife Amanda, purchased from a Russian website aimed at discerning and sadly single English gentlemen.

But I wish I still borrowed stuff. I never borrow books or albums any more, and there was something fantastic about coming home with a piece of vinyl that I hadn’t paid for.

Actually, I take that back about Amanda. And Deep Purple in Rock I borrowed from a school friend in 1972.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
I have never, as far as I know, worn or owned anything by Armani. This is because you have to go to a shop staffed by scary people, and try something on, and listen to bad hip-hop, probably, while cursing yourself because your legs are too short and your waist is too round.

Levis, you walk in and pick up your size and go home.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
I would really like a long talk with J. D. Salinger. I mean, I wouldn’t sell an account of the conversation or anything, although I would ask a waiter to take a snap of us together.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?
It remains my ambition to see James Brown at the Harlem Apollo in the ‘60s, and a time machine would probably provide me with the best opportunity of fulfilling it.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
I am of a personality type that veers towards the hit-man. If I had written Harry Potter, I would employ a live-in hit-man (or woman), along with a live-in chef, and someone employed to play the early levels of Zuma.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or… ?
I stopped smoking on Monday, five days ago. This is the longest I have gone without for a few years. So I can state with absolute authority that cigarettes are as essential as water and love and music and food and air.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
City. West Coast of the USA. San Francisco. Berkeley, maybe. I haven’t worked out the exact house yet, but when I do…

Failing that: North London. Highbury Fields. A house with a red door, about halfway down on the right-hand side.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
“Was it really worth it? All those years, an entire adult lifetime, of boring student union meetings and then local part meetings and knocking on doors and speeches and whispers in corridors, no real friends, no inhaling? And now everybody hates you, and you’ve got nothing done.”

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I’m still doing bits and pieces for the album I’ve been working on with Ben Folds. Then I’m attempting to co-write an animated feature film (with Giles Smith, of bendy straw fame) called The Babymakers.

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