PODCAST: Nick Hornby reads from Juliet, Naked at the Coolidge [MP3]

If you ever happen to find yourself in England and you run into a neurotic middle-aged Londoner, a kid who asks strings of naive questions, and a music nerd who defines himself by his favorite band, then you’ve probably stumbled into a Nick Hornby novel.

Anyone who’s cracked the spine of High Fidelity or About a Boy won’t be surprised that Hornby’s new book Juliet, Naked contains his signature set of lovable, music-obsessed neurotics, as well as liberal dollops of his wry humor. Hornby and his adorable British accent (I’m an American woman, all right?) took the stage late at his sold-out reading at the Coolidge Corner Theatre (put on by the Brookline Booksmith) on Wednesday night. And when he did, he brought his sardonic take on the oft-desperate existence of the fiction writer.

DOWNLOAD: Nick Hornby reads from Juliet, Naked at the Coolidge (Coolidge Corner Theatre, September 30, 2009) [mp3]

“I deal with [moments of despair and writer’s block] because there’s a book, and I’m not dead,” said Hornby. “But beyond that, I don’t think there’s much dealing that goes on. There’s a lot of sulking and kicking things, and endless computer games.”

So it's thanks to plenty of sulking and kicking that we have Juliet, Naked, in which washed-up, Dylanesque singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe strikes up an email correspondence about his comeback album with a fan named Annie. Unfortunately, Annie has a boyfriend who worships Crowe’s music. Which leads to the question: what do you do when your idol comes onto your girlfriend?

“Would you actually encourage her to follow through?” asked Hornby. “I would say if you were a true fan, you would have to.”

Hornby read an excerpt from his novel in which Tucker and his young son Jackson go grocery shopping for Lizzie, Jackson’s college-aged half-sister, who is coming to meet Tucker for the first time. Jackson’s innocent questions and Tucker’s inability to remember whether Lizzie is a vegetarian are funny, but they also demonstrate Tucker’s discomfort with his youthful philandering and subsequently abandoning Lizzie before she was born. As Tucker drives to the airport, he ruminates on the discrepancy between his real life and the persona that his Internet fanbase has created. Although all the “creeps” on the web are fixated on some mysterious transgression that Tucker committed in a Minneapolis bathroom, none of them know that he actually has five children by four women.

The passage got laughs from the audience, but, as in most of Hornby’s writing, the comedy was undercut by regret and loneliness. And that’s the way Hornby likes it.

“I don’t want to write purely comic novels,” he said during the Q&A session after the reading. “I find, as a reader, with purely comic novels, I don’t have enough invested in the characters.”

Since most of the audience hadn’t had a chance to read Juliet, Naked, many questions dealt with Hornby’s past works, especially A Long Way Down, Hornby’s 2005 novel in which four depressed characters serendipitously meet when they’re planning to commit suicide. Hornby revealed that the novel had more of an impact than he had expected. Several years ago, he discovered that the director of a Los Angeles suicide-prevention group had distributed the novel to members of the group.

“I was really knocked out by it,” said Hornby. “It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would do that. It wasn’t written, obviously, as a self-help book.”

Many other questions dealt with Hornby’s other current project; he recently co-wrote the screenplay for An Education, a coming-of-age film based on British journalist Lynn Barber’s memoirs set in 1960s England and released in Boston-area theaters on October 16. Although Hornby found it difficult to adapt his own work when he wrote the screenplay for Fever Pitch, he enjoyed chopping up Barber’s work to create An Education.

“I spent a year trying to put all this stuff into a book, and then somebody was asking me to take it out again,” said Hornby of his experience with Fever Pitch. “With An Education, I adapted somebody else, and it was really fun for me.”

-Emily Cataneo


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