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No Doubt

Nick Hornby on books, music, and Arsenal.



The last time Nick Hornby was in Memphis, he went to Graceland, and he went to Sun. It was 2001. When he's back in Memphis (sponsored in part by the Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities at the U of M), he wants to make another stop: Soulsville USA. And no wonder. He's the author of High Fidelity, and Stax is a studio in a city that "looms large" in Hornby's imagination. He said so in a recent phone interview from his office in London. And he added: "I'm working on a couple of screenplays, one with Emma Thompson. But it's a very slow process, because when I'm not doing something, she is. I'm writing a young-adult novel too."

Flyer: Your latest novel, A Long Way Down ... Johnny Depp bought the movie rights in 2005?

Hornby: Yeah. He's in the process of appointing a writer. As in everything involved in the film world, it seems to take an unconscionably long time. It makes me very grateful for books. You sit down and write them. Somebody publishes them.

When it comes to film versions of your work, you're hands-off, aren't you? That's a healthy attitude.

It feels healthy. It certainly keeps me sane.

You didn't mind then that the film High Fidelity was moved from London to Chicago and the film Fever Pitch was moved from London to Boston?

No, not at all. The fact that High Fidelity worked for an American audience showed that it's not actually very much to do with nationality. It's more connected with a certain age and mindset. What pleased me with High Fidelity was that it became something personal for the guys who adapted it. They'd grown up in Chicago, and so it became a movie about them in the same way the book was partly about me. That's the best you can hope for in an adaptation.

And now High Fidelity is being turned into a stage musical.

That's right. These New Yorkers got hold of the rights. I'm curious about it, the progress of it. They clearly know what they're doing. If it gets to Broadway in November, which is the idea, I'd very much like to be there.

You write a monthly column in The Believer magazine, a column about the books you've bought and the books you're reading. It's heartening to hear about the books you can't finish.

I really enjoy that column. It's helpful to examine why we read the books we do; what stops us from reading the books we've started. It's an incredibly rich and complicated area -- the subject of reading.

But you also wrote in March that you're sorry to say that the column is making "only medium-sized inroads into the American consciousness." That's a surprise, given your popularity.

People are nice, but The Believer's a pretty "niche" magazine. I don't imagine that thousands of people not on your two coasts are reading it.

You've also stated that you're more at home with American fiction than you are with British fiction.Yeah, it's the literature I feel the most affinity with, because American fiction has its roots in popular culture. Even America's first, great novels are about different kinds of people. I'm comfortable with the notion that you can write an intelligent novel about people who are maybe not educated, for example. I think a lot of British literary people still have a problem with that idea, "incredible" as that may sound.

Care to comment then on the brouhaha over last year's Booker Prize winner, John Banville's very literary The Sea?

Uh ... I haven't read it. I get the sense it wouldn't be for me.

Do you see a lot of live music?

Not much. But the band Marah ... I see them a lot, about 12 times in the past 18th months. [Note: You can see them too at the Hi-Tone March 24th.] We do a show together now. [Note: You can see Marah and Hornby at Proud Larry's in Oxford March 25th.] We've concocted something that ... well, it works for us.

We've touched on the books you buy. What about the music you buy?

The idea of a fossilized CD collection is not something that appeals to me. I buy new music all the time.

Such as.

The new record by Cat Power. It could be my record of the year, so far. It's lovely. And of course, it's got those Memphis musicians on it.

I have to ask you about Arsenal, the London soccer team you described so memorably in the memoir Fever Pitch. How's their season?

As of today, good. You know Arsenal?

From Fever Pitch, yes. Their season, no.

They just had a very big European match against Real Madrid, and they won, very unexpectedly. Actually, though, they've been a bit of a shambles this year.

This year ... You wrote in The Believer that you've entered 2006 on a "self-doubting" note. How? You're working on two screenplays and another novel. High Fidelity is being turned into a stage musical slated for Broadway. And Johnny Depp has the movie rights to your last novel. You're on a "self-doubting" note?

I'm full of self-doubt all the time.

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