Please sir, may I please take the wand out me bum, sir?
Ah, yes, who can forget those touching moments under the staircase with Harry and his evil uncle? But that’s not what we’re here to deal with today. Don’t get me wrong, Harry Potter is my friend. Anyone who gets ten-million kids reading books is my friend. I mean, when the little punters grow up, what kind of material will they be looking for, do you think? That’s right, more light-hearted supernatural stories but with scads of profanity, sex, violence, and dark humor. And I’ll be there, books in hand, waiting for the little bleeders.
But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that you, my brilliant readers, have a whole new way to look at books. Yes, I said, “look at.”Which brings us to the Ying – Yang thing in the title.
If you know anything about the theories of visual composition, Westerners compose pictures in rectangles, usually dividing the canvas into thirds and then filling each third with ground, water, eyes, torso, or oatmeal, and there you go. But in Asia, composition is done by using a balance of object and space, equal amounts of either, until you can almost superimpose that black and white Ying-Yang symbol over the top of almost any painting and it will work as a template. Really, try it sometime. Well, have you ever tried looking at the pages of a book the same way? I don’t mean reading, I mean looking at the pages. I do it, and interestingly enough, whenever I find a book in which there is about an equal amount of white space and print on the page, I’ve usually found myself a fun book to read. Which is what I found when I picked up the books by Nick Hornby.
Hornby (other than having the perfect name if Beavis and Butthead ever want to become a trio) is the author of High Fidelity, and About a Boy, as well as a couple of books about soccer, which tips you off right away that he’s British. Besides confirming my arbitrary Ying-Yank theory of literature, Hornby, like many of my favorite Brit writers, (Douglas Adams, Hugh Laurie, and William Shakespeare) has great comic timing, as well as that droll British idiom that uses words like sodding and bloody and wanker, which for my money, make a book worth the price of admission before you even get to the story. (Which is why it’s sort of tragic that they are Americanizing Harry Potter before letting kids in the States read him. That’s right, they’ve taken out all of the loos, and boots and bubble and squeaks and most of the wankers. We’re not done with Harry. Hang tough.)
High Fidelity is a fine book, the story of a thirtyish London slacker who owns a failing record shop and traces for us his entire romantic history going back to the first time he made the mistake of leaving a little girl sitting on a bench by herself, allowing some sodding wanker to move in on her. There is a phenomenal amount of music trivia woven through the pages, which is a bonus if you’re into that sort of thing, but doesn’t detract if you’re not. You won’t go wrong with High Fidelity, but for my money, the Hornby to run out and buy is About a Boy.
About a Boy is what would have happened to Harry Potter if Harry Potter had never gone off to Wizard school. Marcus is a twelve-year old boy, the son of a single mother who has just moved from Cambridge to London, and he is a total geek. It’s not Marcus’s fault he’s weird, he’s weird because his mother’s weird, but he’s weird nonetheless, so all the little English school children do the Lord of the Flies — “let’s stomp Piggy’s glasses” thing to him. (You know, the British still lead the world in childhood cruelty. Blame Dickens.) Anyway, Marcus just can’t seem to make any friends his own age, so enter Will.
Will Freeman is a London playboy who lives off the royalties of an obnoxious Christmas song his father wrote in the fifties. Since he doesn’t have to work, Will spends his time pursuing women. Since he’s never had any responsibility, he’s not much more than a thirty-five year old adolescent himself. After a dry spell with the ladies, Will decides to invent a two-year old son named Ned and join a single parent’s group in order to meet women. Eventually, through a few misadventures, one in which he takes Marcus’s mother to the hospital (or to hospital, as the Brits say) after she noshes a couple of handfuls of sleeping pills, he meets Marcus.
Will and Marcus become reluctant friends, and the book goes on from there, but what you can’t miss is the absolute milk-out-the-nostrils-spurting one-liners that Hornby leaves lying around for you to stumble across. To note, here’s a scene where Will goes to buy a car seat for his mythical son:
“What make are you looking for?”
“Dunno. Anything. The Cheapest.” He laughed matily. “What do most people get?”
“Well, not the cheapest. They’re usually worried about safety.”
“Ah yes.” He stopped laughing. Safety was serious business. “Not much point saving a few quid if he ends up through the windscreen, is there?”
It cracked me up, anyway. Check Hornby out.
NOTE TO THOSE WHO WROTE ME ABOUT CHICKS AND DICKS:
I’m reading Janet Evanovich, for Christ’s sakes. I like her stuff so far. Chill.
ALSO. If you have gone through all of Chris’s picks, and you can’t wait for new ones, Bill Fitzhugh has a new book out call Cross Dressing. It’s about an advertising exec. in LA who assumes the identity of his missionary brother when the brother has to go to the hospital, but has no health insurance, then dies. It’s funnier than it sounds.
ALSO: I’ll be reviewing Chuck Paluhniak, Joe R. Landsdale, and Tim Sandlin in Chris’s Picks to come. If you can’t wait, go ahead and read their books, but they won’t be as good without my pithy and insightful comments.