A Seat at the Bar, with Nick Hornby

A Seat at the Bar, with Nick Hornby
Author Nick Hornby captures the post-modern man like no one else. (photo: Wikipedia)

Sometimes as a writer, your ego gets in the way. And since that ego is all yours, it likes to see itself as some sort of lucky charm. You start likening yourself to authors, rock stars and other icons that you naturally want to emulate for their talent or poise.

Four years ago I started to write, throwing my opinion around as if anyone cared. It all started because that summer, international soccer star David Beckham came back to the US for what they call a friendly against his old team, the LA Galaxy. Becks came back just to play the game and Los Angeles fans booed and cursed him. Everyone was picking on him, I thought. So I wrote something that I shared mostly just with friends.

At the time I was trying to capture the world's hysteric enthusiasm about sports, not just to recap games. Nonetheless, in attempt to enforce my own pure originality I banned myself from reading favorite authors who had written with a sports undertone. I lent out everything I had by Nick Hornby.

Before I knew it, I had deadlines and late night re-writes. I would cover local football and interview athletes. Later I would hit up musicians with questions about their latest albums. I’d cover international sporting events. Delving deeper into sports, I would get criticized by players for picking their team to come in last place. Bicycling enthusiasts would call me a putz, a jerk, and an asshole. My little hobby that started one September had spawned a monster.

Along the way, I have figured out something. Men who write are heady, meticulous, egotistical chaps.

Best-selling martyrs like Franzen, Foer, and David Foster Wallace have sold tons of books but still babble about the death of literature and complain how everything is wrong. Others of us like Mailer and Hemingway preferred to drink and brawl, yet we always feel the need to fill the room with our macho whether it is welcome or not. Just the same, all these men have influenced other would-be complainers and brawlers not to complain or cause trouble but instead to write. But it is probably true that writers sometimes typecast themselves.

Then there’s Nick Hornby, author of the great books Fever Pitch, About a Boy, and High Fidelity. One thing I have always appreciated about Hornby is that there’s no need to tag along with either camp. Instead, Hornby captures men’s defects without choosing to embody either male-writer stereotype. And more simply than any other man who has written about men, Nick Hornby demonstrates that there’s at least one author out there who gets us.

In High Fidelity his main character, Rob Fleming –played as Rob Gordon by John Cusack in the excellent film version—combines the complainer, and the occasional drunk-womanizer with the putz, the jerk and the asshole in an apt and truthful caricature of the post-modern man in all his charisma and blatant imperfection.

As a man with a brain, or at least one who considers himself as such, to me it is a comfort to know that there is one successful writer who knows what it means, good, bad or otherwise, to be a man. All of Hornby’s books provide a candid exploration of love, heartbreak, as well as our follies and the stupid, fruitless games we play.


No John Wayne: Hornby's would-be almost-hero Rob in High Fidelity,

Within his writings, Hornby catalogues our misadventures without apology. Better yet he’s never aimed to make us seem better creatures than we really are.

The odd appeal about Hornby’s ability here, predictably, makes the simple dude in me want to have a drink with him. Often, that’s how it works with us. But what to talk about over a drink?

Who knows. Does it matter? Sports, life, the usual. Sure I’d probably want to get his feel for the next Brazil-England match since I know that like me he’s a huge fan of the beautiful game. Or, I’d get his take on American Football as a Brit. Such conversations at a whiskey bar would be misadventures in their own. But being here, I wonder if the joke is on me.

For a moment, I remember Woody Allen’s film Deconstructing Harry. In the film Harry (played by Allen himself) is a writer who meets all his characters. Harry’s characters thank him for creating them, but eventually concede what a screw-up, a schmuck and a horse’s ass he is. And for a moment, I might think this author is meeting another regular guy at the bar. That next character of his.

It isn’t that I’m asking for a role in his next book or film adaptation. I’m not that interesting or worthy.

Really, though, I am no different than Paul Ashworth in the film version of Fever Pitch, that man who can't shut up for even a moment about football. And I’m probably no different than Rob Fleming, High Fidelity’s failing record shop owner in his own circling-pattern, who obsesses about rock n roll songs in a repetitive grasp to make sense of his rocky relationships. And, maybe like Will Freeman in About A Boy, I just might someday barely get it all together.

Knowing this, the pint of ale or a whiskey shared between me, that average guy and the maestro, Nick Hornby, does have a significance. Perhaps it’s proof enough that it’s perfectly okay for me to be just that guy.


Andy Frye writes for ESPN.com and has also covered sports-related topics for Men's Health, DerbyLife.com and the Chicago Sun-Times.  

Filed under: Authors, Writing

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