A guy I used to work with at a certain bankrupt institution that no longer employs either of us said once, over a casual conversation about books, that he didn’t get what all the fuss was about Michael Chabon. After a pause, my friend, himself a writer, said, with a bit of his usual curmudgeonly self-deprication, “Maybe I’m just jealous.” It’s an understandable sentiment. Chabon is an award-winning, best-selling writer who has also dabbled in the movie business, contributing to the screen story of Spider-Man 2.
How could anyone who ever sought to make a life from words not be.
Chabon’s, though, isn’t the career I would be most interested in mimicking. If I were to have more moxie (and motivation and start-up capital) than I currently posses and could reinvent myself from the part-time journalist, full-time cynic that I am into whatever I wanted, I would fashion myself after Nick Hornby. Like Mr. Chabon, Mr. Hornby is a successful writer whose novels have, on some occasions, been turned into decent movies. (I will take this moment to point out that Hornby’s book Fever Pitch, a hilarious and entertaining memoir about his life as a fan of the Arsenal football club in England, shares absolutely nothing with whatever it was Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore were doing on the field when the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series except for the two words in the title.)
Hornby’s novels are good, fun reads — whatever the male equivalent would be of “chick lit,” if we lived in a world where fiction about men and their relationships was also commonly pigeonholed into a quasi-dismissive marketing niche — but he’s at his best when he’s just writing about stuff he likes as in Songbook and Fever Pitch. He knows how lucky he is to get paid to ruminate about such things as his favorite music and the perils of loving a certain football [sic] team too much. You can feel it in his writing. Few other writers — be they novelists, critics, pop culture commentators or what have you — manage to convey how much fun they are having putting pen to paper about the very many times they’ve listened to Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road. Probably because nobody can claim to have listened to that song as often as Hornby (or bothered counting), but you get my meaning.
At the moment, among the three books on the Target magazine rack that passes for my nightstand, is Shakespeare Wrote for Money, which is a collection of columns he wrote for Believer magazine about whatever books he happened to be reading. They read like stream-of-consciousness conversations with your favorite book nerd about the joys of reading and the things the books make you think about. I don’t mean to suggest that Hornby just writes off the top of his head, willy nilly on any subject that comes to mind. He obviously understands the power of the written word. But he enjoys it too, and that’s the difference. Too many literary critics and people who write about words and reading and writing forget to merely enjoy what they do, as if writing all those book reports and analyses in college, pulling all those all-nighters doing research for term papers sapped all the fun out it. Hornby loves to read and he loves to write and he gets a chance to do both for money. I definitely want a piece of that action.
As I child, I was never much for dreaming about what I would be when I grew up. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe I buried my nose in books too long, too often, to pause and think about the future, which, I guess, is my answer. The dreaming only started as I got older and is going a bit haywire now as my career as an editor and journalist stands on the precipice of extinction. I’m looking for a job and dreaming about being like Nick Hornby. Could I ever just write about whatever I wanted to? Well, I have this blog, but I’m not exactly making anyone jealous. Yet.