Ambitious Summer Reading List: About A Boy By Nick Hornby (1998)

I’m a big Nick Hornby fan and have been since reading High Fidelity, but I haven’t read through all of his books. This is mostly because I’m cheap, but last year I came across all the books of his I was missing between a closing Borders and a used book store in New Hampshire. While reorganizing our storage unit the other day I found one of the three containers filled with unread books I had in there and decided to give About A Boy a read. The quickness with which I made it through Hornby’s sophomore effort spurred me on to come up with this summer’s Ambitious Reading List.

I actually had no idea what the book was about. I’d never seen the 2002 Hugh Grant film and picked up the book based solely on Hornby’s name (just like I did with A Long Way Down and Slam), but it turns out that a man named Will — who has lots of money thanks to his dad being a one hit wonder still bringing in money long after his dead — trying to pick up women in a single mother’s support group. Will winds up meeting an unusual 12 year old boy named Marcus when his mom Fiona tries to kill herself and Will happens to be out with Marcus and Fiona’s friend (and will’s target) Suzie. After the event, Marcus keeps his relationship up with Will because he likes how Will has life figured out.

Actually, that’s who the book is about, it’s not really WHAT the book is about. The book is about how we all deal with emotions, truth and the world and how pretty much no one seems to get it right. Will is super rich and therefor has no real problems in his life. He also comes from a family that sounds like it wasn’t loving, so he avoids emotions at all costs, until he’s thrown into Marcus’ life. Fiona on the other hand is the kind of free spirit hippy who makes it seem like she’s teaching her son to follow in her own ways, but without explaining to him how the world might respond to that (by throwing candy at it and stealing its shoes). Marcus is the result of someone with really good intentions who also happens to be incredibly unstable being out in the world and not wanting to bring his problems back to his potentially still suicidal mother. Will’s there to teach Marcus how to fit in and be more normal while Marcus is there to show Will what emotions can do to reality. This opens Will up to finally get in a real, legitimate romantic relationship with a woman named Rachel who has a son with his own set of problems.

That all sounds really heavy and potentially difficult to get through, but it really isn’t. I read this book in a handful of sittings which is impressive for me, but that’s really because Hornby writes in a way that really absorbs me. He absolutely nails that interesting time in a kid’s life where they realize that the world of adults works differently than their own and they try to figure it all out. I realized part way through the book that Marcus is roughly my age. When I realized that, it made the reading experience all the more interesting and also reminded me of another favorite coming of age story The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. The way Hornby calls back to childhood is just amazing, but he also seems to perfectly capture the almost-40 playboy Will in ways that I can partially relate to and will probably be able to relate to even more when I’m a few years older.

And that’s what I really love about Hornby’s books: you get different things from them when you read them at different stages of your life. High Fidelity meant something completely different to me when I read it in high school than it did the last time I did. I think I also got more out of this book now that I’m a dad than I would have if I read it right after picking up Fidelity. I had kind of forgotten what Slam was about, but after going back and re-reading my review of it, I’m sure it would play completely differently now that I’m a dad myself.

One more thing I wanted to talk about in reference to Hornby and his books. First off, there’s a direct reference to Fidelity in Boy when Will finds himself looking around Championship Vinyl. I dug that. But more than just directly referencing his other book, you can see the seeds of his other books in this one (and parts of Fidelity recurring in this one as well). The whole idea of an unusual kid growing up was also the subject of Slam as a boy who talks to his Tony Hawk poster accidentally knocks a girl up. There’s also talk of suicide and even doing it on a holiday which is the starting point for A Long Way Down, which is literally about a group of people who meat on the same building they intend to jump off of. I bet there’s also bits and pieces of How To Be Good and Juliet, Naked in here too, but I haven’t read them just yet. Maybe when I’m done with this year’s Ambitious Summer Reading List.

With the first of 12 books down, I decided to move from fiction to autobiography and read George Hamilton’s book Don’t Mind If I Do which was co-written by WIlliam Stadiem who also helped George Jacobs write his excellent book Mr. S. I started it yesterday and even though I don’t know much about Hamilton, I do find his old Hollywood swagger very engaging and think that this will be a very entertaining book about Hollywood in the same vein as Mr. S. The only downside? All this reading is getting in the way of blogging, so sorry about that.

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