Nick Hornby: “Novels should be like TV”

The About A Boy author on his new novel, why kids shouldn't have to read Ulysses, and how Julia Roberts and Sean Penn nearly starred in a remake of How To Be Good

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Nick Hornby may be one if the country’s best selling authors but he has no time for literary snobbery.

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My real campaign is to get everybody to read something that they’re loving,” said the author whilst speaking at Cheltenham Literature Festival to promote his new book Funny Girl.

“If they’re not loving it then stop reading it. Every time we pick up a book from a sense of duty and we find that we’re struggling to get through it we reinforce the notion that reading is something we should do but telly is something that we want to do.

It shouldn’t be like that. Novels should be like TV. And it doesn’t mean you have to read easy books.”

Hornby argued that children shouldn’t be forced to persevere with a book simply because it’s considered a classic.

“When you see the poet laureate saying that every child should have read Ulysses and that you’re just giving up on children if you think it’s elitist-  does that include children with special needs or whose first language isn’t English?”

In 2006, the then poet laureate Andrew Motion said that children should be expected to read Don Quixote, Ulysses, The Waste Land and Paradise Lost  before leaving school.

Hornby said this was missing the point of children’s literacy: “If you can get every kid to have found a book that he or she loves then you’ve done a great job.”

Speaking about his own work, Hornby said his forthcoming 1960s-set novel Funny Girl, which will be out in November, was about the “birth, life and death” of a television series.

Asked why his successful 2001 novel How To Be Good was one of the few of his works to not be adapted for the screen, he revealed that Julia Roberts and Sean Penn had been set to take star in a film of the book but that the project had fallen through. 

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“There was a moment- I would say five years ago- where I had a phone call from Mike Nichols who was sitting in a rehearsal studio with Julia Roberts and Sean Penn and they were all ready to go. That was the last I ever heard of it. It was bought and was written and got quite a long way down the line. With any film project there is always a 90 per cent chance of collapse and that was one of those times.”