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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I write about Nick Hornby too much, I think

ETA: Ha! That totally read "I write about Nick Horny too much, I think." I fixed it now. Also: Nick Hornby is SO lucky he did not grow up in the US. He would have been tortured over that name.

Here's a review I wrote for The Minneapolis Star Tribune that went up ages ago: The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy (not to be confused with Kate Spindler nee Kennedy). Anyway, I compared Kennedy's writing to Nick Hornby's and I realized I did this, too, when I interviewed Peter Bognanni for the dislocate blog.
It's odd because I don't think of Nick Hornby as being particularly relevant to me as a writer. Like, if you asked me, "Who are your favorite/most influential/whatever/whatever writers?" I'd never think to say "Nick Hornby." But he seems to come up almost immediately as a reference point for me when trying to discuss/articulate something about the writing of others, particularly if they are at all: a) funny; b) contemporary and set in contemporary times; c) write in a more-or-less "realist" mode; d) streak in larger social issues/concerns with small-scale, contemporary, funny stories.

And, really, maybe I wouldn't say "Nick Hornby" when asked about my influences because -- I dunno. Because he's an older British dude, because he writes a lot about masculinity, and maybe because he's so popular and I want more street-cred or something. But really, Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, and About a Boy*, not to mention his series of essays on reading for The Believer and some of his other non-fiction, are a tremendous influence.

*But there you go -- all these books have become big Hollywood movies. And High Fidelity and About a Boy were pretty good movies (Fever Pitch, not so much). But when you mention them as favorite books, you feel a bit silly, like you're someone who only reads novelizations of popular TV shows or movies.

"But what is wrong with popular TV shows and movies, Easy O?" you might ask. "Do not you love these things? Are you not committed to the Fusion of High and Low--or, less problematically, Popular and Literary (this phrasing is still problematic, but let's move on) forms of art? Did you not write a novel fusing in the structure and themes of popular Romance Novels with a literary style and plot? Isn't that, in a phrase, Sort of Your Bag?"

Well, yes, I would reply. But--But--

....But I still want to sound smart at intellectual cocktail parties! And answering "Marilynne Robinson" when some impressive person dressed in hipster-chic peers at me over their plastic cup of cheap wine just makes me feel more impressive than saying "Nick Hornby." And it's not untrue! I DO like Marilynne Robinson!



And now I'm depressing myself with my own snobbery.

But you know what? Nick Hornby himself is not entirely unfamiliar with this dilemma.

And I'm also not being entirely candid. Because the snobbery isn't all external (the convenient straw man of "impressive person dressed in hipster-chic at a cocktail party" -- oh, get on with you and your easy stereotypes, Easy O). The snobbery is also partially internal, because I genuinely don't thinks some of his more recent books, like How To Be Good or A Long Way Down are very good (haven't read the most recent one, Juliet, Naked, as I sort of gave up on him, novel-wise -- maybe I should give him another shot).

I thought his script for An Education was very good, and I hope that he actually goes on to write more movies because I suspect that there might be where his true talent lies (he started out writing plays). I guess I think he's a really excellent humorist (with ample dashes of pathos mixed in, as with all the best humorists) with a really, really excellent ear for dialogue and this works really, really, really well for memoir (Fever Pitch) or semi-autobiographical-pseudo-confessional fiction (High Fidelity) or essays about books and pop culture or scripts. I guess I feel it doesn't work as well when he writes, for lack of a better word, "straight up" literary fiction.

So my ambivalence about him probably stems from worries and ambivalence about my own writing (as most such ambivalence-s and prejudices do). Do I want my writing to be light-hearted, comic, and confessional (as it is on this blog); do I want to write screenplays and plays (as I do); do I want to write, for lack of a better word, more "serious," "straight up" literary fiction? (as I do, or at least think I do)? And that's not even taking into account the issue of realism -- do I want to stick to writing about myself and the world around me (as Nick Hornby does, largely)? Because I love doing that. But then, I also very much like writing about fantastical stuff (I was long-listed for this, bitches, yeah don't act like you ain't impressed).

As much as I joke about (and am legit embarrassed by, sometimes) my obsession with Supernatural (but I love it too much to even pretend to disown it at cocktails parties!), one thing the show does that I genuinely do admire and find--to spread some cheese on my cracker--inspiring is that it's such a freaking mish-mash of genres and tones. The whole concept started out that these two characters would wander into a different horror movie every week, basically. And it evolved to be The X-Files meets Buffy/Angel (it has former writers/producers from both sets of shows on it). And, along the way, they figured out they could do lots of stuff: they could be funny; they could be extremely sad and depressing; they could be very meta and make fun of themselves; they could be extremely meta and make fun of other TV shows and movies; they could reference and use whatever the fuck they wanted, from (off the top of my head) Norse mythology (every kind of mythology, really), Milton, Kurt Vonnegut, the Bible, Joseph Campbell, Grimm's Fairy Tales, H. P. Lovecraft, On the Road, Groundhog Day, Star Trek IV, Grey's Anatomy, and I could go on and on and on but it would be boring.

I wanna be able to do this:



Because:

Basically, I want to write this:


So that people will have these!

Because basically this is me.

Yes, yes, also this is also me.

But ultimately: this.

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