For five years, writer Nick Hornby’s What I’ve Been Reading column (excerpt available online) has been one of the best known features in monthly lit-mag the Believer. With the September 2008 installment, the magazine announces, Hornby’s tenure is coming to a close.
In his stead, the magazine introduces Greil Marcus, the prolific music-and-cultural critic, who will be writing a monthly column called Real Life Rock Top Ten (excerpt available online). Marcus, known for 1989’s Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century and more recently The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy in the American Voice, is a fantastically engaging scholar, with an eye for dissecting culture through the lens of popular music. In short: Real Life Rock Top Ten, no doubt, will be a gem in the Believer line-up.
I’ll miss Nick Hornby, though: His quirky monthly dispatches of “books bought” and “books read,” and his free-flowing musings on the content therein. In 2003, Hornby described the genesis of the column—and lessons learned from writing it—to the British newspaper the Telegraph:
Before I wrote the first column, I'd just had a particularly happy few weeks of reading, where one book had indeed led to another, and it occurred to me that maybe my book choices always had that sort of interesting shape to them.
But of course once I'd committed to a monthly column, this turned out to be nonsense, and ever since then my reading has been haphazard and whimsical, and therefore my column has been, too.
The Believer has one, and only one, commandment: THOU SHALT NOT SLAG ANYONE OFF.
As I understand it, the founders of the magazine wanted one place, one tiny corner of the world, in which writers could be sure that they weren't going to get a kicking; predictably and depressingly, this ambition was, and continues to be, mocked mercilessly, mostly by those critics whose children would go hungry if their parents weren't able to abuse authors whose books they didn't much like.
To write about writers without delivering any kickings, however, Hornby discovers that he’s best off choosing books he will most likely enjoy. “I'm not sure this idea is as blindingly obvious as it seems. We often read books that we think we ought to read, or that we think we ought to have read, or that other people think we should read,” he writes. Read for enjoyment, he counsels. Wise words.
Hornby's recent columns will be collected into a book (the third such collection), due out this December.