High Fidelity – Nick Hornby

This book is required reading for EVERY MAN. There, I’ve said it. It’s absolutely brilliant.

My last year or so in the Navy, I worked as IC man instead of my job as an ET….Not a big deal to me, I got to write the movie schedule week-by-week….I loved it, seeing as how I’m a huge movie nerd. I only bring it up because I got a nice little box every month that contained 16 8MM tapes. These 16 tapes were movies that are issued to ships and military detachments for the morale of the crew. Well, I had a kindred spirit on my ship. His name was Parker and he loved movies just as much as I did. He was a strange fellow but I enjoyed talking for hours with him about movies. We guarded the 16 tapes with a secrecy that is only surpassed by the CIA but he was my movie-nerd-brother and I shared with him the latest titles. Usually out of the 16, there was about 10 or 11 new releases and then the rest were older ones (something like Back To The Future, I mean).

The batch that came in this particular time had a movie in it called “High Fidelity”. Parker started breathing heavy and his eyes rolled into his head. I thought he had bad indigestion or maybe a bad case of food poisoning. It turns out that he was “in the know” about this movie, High Fidelity. I felt ashamed of myself as a movie fan for not knowing ANYTHING about it. The movie stars John Cusack (sorry, Wiley! I know your deep hatred of all things Cusack but I can’t help but love him!) as a record store owner named Rob that is having a relationship crisis. As soon as I found out that it was based on a book, I vowed to hit up the bookstore upon our return to land.

So I did. I bought the book, I read it. Several times. That is why I’m writing this review.

Commence with the actual BOOK REVIEW.

I had attempted to read this book in a completely objective manner this time around. I dug it out of the garage with the sole purpose of reading it for a Blog-City review. I couldn’t do it though, even though I tried to be objective, it sucked me right in. All the feelings I had when I first read it were back full-force.

There are so many passages in this book that I underlined or placed in brackets so they stood out to me. Let me go over some with you and you can decide if Nick Hornby is right on the money with guys’ feelings or not.

“A while back, when Dick and Barry and I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like, Barry proposed the idea of a questionnaire for prospective partners, a two or three page multiple-choice document that covered all the music/film/TV/book bases. It was intended a) to dispense with awkward conversation, and b) to prevent a chap from leaping into bed with someone who might, at a later date, turn out to have every Julio Iglesias record ever made. It amused us at the time, although Barry, being Barry, went one stage further: he compiled the questionnaire and presented it to some poor woman he was interested in, and she hit him with it. But there was an important and essential truth contained in the idea, and the truth was that these things matter, and it’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently, or if your favorite films wouldn’t even speak to each other if they met at a party.”

You’ve got to be a serious nerd, but what’s really bad is that I’m completely in agreement. I don’t know if I would go so far as to present it to a potential date but there is validity in the argument presented by Rob here.

How about Rob’s feelings on being a man?

“I’m happy to be a bloke, I think, but sometimes I’m not happy being a bloke in the late twentieth centure. Sometimes I’d rather be my dad. He never had to worry about delivering the goods, because he never knew that there were any goods to deliver; he never had to worry about how he ranked in my mother’s all-time hot one hundred, because he was the first and last on the list. Wouldn’t it be great if you could talk about this sort of thing to your father?”

Or how about Al Green and his contributions to present day relationships?

“It seems to me that if you place music (and books, probably, and films, and plays, and anything that makes you feel) at the center of your being, then you can’t afford to sort out your love life, start to think of it as the finished product. You’ve got to pick at it, keep it alive and in turmoil, you’ve got to pick at it and unravel it until it all comes apart and you’re compelled to start all over again. Maybe we all live life at too high a pitch, those of us who absorb emotional things all day, and as a consequence, we can never feel merely content: we have to be unhappy, or ecstatically, head-over-heels happy, and those states are difficult to achieve within a stable, solid relationship. Maybe Al Green is directly responsible for more than I ever realized.”

His afterthoughts on death and how it has affected his outlook on life and relationships?

“What happened to me during the funeral was something like this: I saw, for the first time, how scared I am of dying, and of other people dying, and how this fear has prevented me from doing all sorts of things, like giving up smoking (because if you take death too seriously or not seriously enough, as I have been doing up till now, then what’s the point?), and thinking about my life, especially my job, in a way that contains a concept of the future (too scary, because the future ends in death). But most of all it has prevented me from sticking with a relationship, because if you stick with a relationship, and your life becomes dependent on that person’s life, and then they die, as they are bound to do, unless their are exceptional circumstances, e.g., they are a character from a science-fiction novel…well you’re up the creek without a paddle aren’t you? It’s OK if I die first, I guess, but having to die before someone else dies isn’t a necessity that cheers me up much: how do I know when she’s going to die? Could be run over by a bus tomorrow, as the saying goes, which means I have to throw myself under a bus today.”

“To me, it makes more sense to hop from woman to woman until you’re too old to do it anymore, and then you live alone and die alone and what’s so terrible about that, when you look at the alternatives?”

“When I nestled into Laura’s back in the night, I was afraid because I didn’t want to lose her, and we always lose someone, or they lose us, in the end. I’d rather not take the risk. I’d rather not come home from work one day in ten or twenty years’ time to be faced with a pale, frightened woman saying that she had been shitting blood -I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but this is what happens to people- and then we go to the doctor and then the doctor says it’s inoperable and then…I wouldn’t have the guts, you know?”

“So where does this get me? The logic of it all is that I play a percentage game. I’m thirty-six now, right? And let’s say that most fatal diseases -cancer, heart disease, whatever- hit you after the age of fifty. You might be unlucky, and snuff it early, but the fifty-plus age group get more than their fair share of bad stuff happening to them. So to play safe, you stop then: a relationship every couple years for the next fourteen years, and then get out, stop dead, give it up. It makes sense. Will I explain this to whomever I’m seeing? Maybe. It’s fairer, probably. And less emotional, somehow, than the usual mess that ends relationships. ‘You’re going to die, so there’s not much point in us carrying on, is there?’ It’s perfectly acceptable if someone’s emigrating, or returning to their own country, to stop a relationship on the grounds that any further involvement would be too painful, so why not death? The separation that death
entails has got to be more painful than the separation of emigration, surely? I mean, with emigration, you can always go with her. You can always say to yourself, ‘Oh, fuck it, I’ll pack it all in and go and be a cowboy in Texas/tea-picker in India,’ etc. You can’t do that with the big D, though, can you? Unless you take the Romeo route, and if you think about it…”

The advice given to him by his girlfriend (the woman who triggers all these thoughts of his)

“Something more than waiting for life to change and keeping your options open. You’d keep your options open for the rest of your life, if you could. You’ll be lying on your deathbed, dying of some smoking-related disease, and you’ll be thinking, ‘Well, at least I’ve kept my options open. At least I never ended up doing something I couldn’t back out of.’ And all the time you’re keeping your options open, your closing them off. You’re thirty-six and you don’t have children. So when are you going to have them? When you’re forty? Fifty? Say you’re forty, and say your kid doesn’t want kids until he’s thirty-six. That means you’d have to live much longer than your allotted three-score years and ten just to catch so much as a glimpse of your grandchild. See how you’re denying yourself things?”

The “new” boyfriend?

“I accept and understand that you can’t be good at everything, and I am tragically unskilled in some very important areas. But sex is different; knowing that a successor is better in bed is impossible to take, and I don’t know why.”

Nick Hornby has hit the nail on the head. This book is brilliant and as I mentioned at the beginning of this MASSIVE review, it is a must-read for every man who has questioned his spot on the planet. If you have ever tried to figure out what women are truly up to and why you feel the way you do, this book probably won’t help you but at least you can nod your head and laugh along with Nick Hornby’s protagonist, Rob, as you empathize with his situation. The book was written WITH THAT IN MIND, I’m guessing. It’s amazing writing and up to that point in my life (the first reading back in 2000), I had never read anything so funny and accurate.

“It is rare that a book so hilarious is also so sharp about sex and manliness, memory and music.” -The New Yorker

“Mr. Hornby captures the loneliness and childishness of adult life with such precision and wit that you’ll find yourself nodding and smiling. High Fidelity fills you with the same sensation that you get from hearing a debut record album that has more charm and verve and depth than anything you can recall.” -The New York Times Book Review

posted Wed, 12-01-04

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