Monday, September 3, 2007

I'm a Believer: what books and magazines to read and TV to watch, Sept. 1, 2007

Over the past year I read two excellent collections of essays by Nick Hornby (more on these another time; I'll just say now that they often made me laugh out loud, and often didn't, and generally at the right places). The essays were taken from his (nearly?) regular articles in the magazine Believer, leading me to an increasing frenzy to hunt down a copy, and I just bought my first (8/07)- a very good use of about $8. This first blog of mine is as much an open letter to Mr. Hornby as it is an attempt to widen the audience for his great work, for Believer, and for some very tangentially-related music.

You can find individual issues of the magazine at the links above and subscribe there or via

Nick Hornby's interview of journalist-turned TV writer/producer David Simon in the latest Believer is simply great. If you don't know who Simon is, I didn't think I did, either. He wrote Homicide (later the television show Homicide-Life on the Street) and created The Wire, which he produces and co-writes with other great writers of Baltimore, Maryland (no, Edgar Allan Poe was not available- I think he is under exclusive contract with Modern Library).

The rationale behind The Wire as described in the interview is brilliant. I mean brilliant in the American sense, perhaps defined as "truly intelligent and impressive without necessarily showing off", not the British sense of brilliant, which in my experience roughly translates to the Californian "Dude!". Just reading Simon's comments, as elicited by Nick Hornby, renewed my faith in something. I'm still deciding what, ... perhaps that intelligent writers of today are self-aware and consciously bucking the schlock-machines in a manner that is viscerally and intellectually thrilling, while being financially successful, without a lowest common denominator in sight.

I only saw a few episodes of The Wire, during an early season when I happened to be travelling and found it in hotel rooms on HBO. I have no access at home, but I felt hooked immediately and definitely suffered separation anxiety that nearly "pierced me to the heart" when my somewhat random exposure to the show stopped (this was made up for by ending the anxiety of random separation from my family).

So, here are my recommendations for the day: The Wire on HBO, Believer magazine, David Simon's writing and other TV work, and of course, that occasionally-censored but always compelling contributor to The Believer, Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity and Fever Pitch (both below), the two books of essays (The Polysyllabic Spree and Housekeeping vs. the Dirt) mentioned above, and numerous other "things"- hint, he is great on books and music, sometimes simultaneously, as well as on certain obsessions (fictional and nonfictional).

Yes, Nick, your fans are legion, tell your editors I said so (all 168 of them)! Also, Mr. Hornby, before you feel put out that I have not fleshed out your work in any detail today, and am defining you largely by a couple of your most popular books, I feel your pain, and I'll relate the following anecdote that you, if nobody else, might find relevant: I heard Taj Mahal say, approximately, in response to early 1980's concert requests for Corrina and She Caught the Katy,

"I made 22 albums between the years of 1968 and 1981, and I refuse to be stuck in the first three, though I appreciate the sentiment."

Anyway, Mr. H., I hope you'll forgive me for primarily, if temporarily, defining you by a fraction of your work, but, more on you in a later post (and no, your writing never caused me to receive a bad grade in a course, though it has kept me up on more than one night, probably making me late for work, or in this case, late for Labor Day, of all things).

P.S. This just scratches the surface of the August, 2007 Believer.

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