“I always look for an opportunity for comedy,” Hornby said in an interview. “But not at the expense of the character's sadness.”
The celebrated British author has released a new novel,”Slam,” which he is on tour promoting. The book is Hornby's first attempt at writing for young adults,ages 14 and up.
More than 175 people showed up Wednesday at Olsson's Books and Records in Washington's Chinatown to squeeze into the 40-odd chairs set up in the cluttered bookstore,and hear the author read from the new book.
The storyline follows the protagonist,16-year-old Sam,obsessed with skateboarding and his idol,Tony Hawk,a real-life champion skateboarder. After getting his 16-year-old girlfriend pregnant,he goes to Hawk,via a poster in his room,for advice. And the poster talks back.
“I feel an identification,a kinship,with anyone who feels an obsession with anything,” Hornby said about Sam's obsession with Hawk. “This is the fullest expression of self I could come up with.”
Among those at the reading were skater and editor Sean Mortimer and his wife,Francesca,who are “big fans” of Hornby's writing. Mortimer is the editor of Skateboarder Magazine and co-wrote Hawk's autobiography,from which Hornby pulled excerpts for “Slam.”
Hornby seemed to be in high spirits and generally having fun among his fans,answering questions,cracking jokes,posing for pictures and signing everything from his books to music posters.
“I'm pretty interested in people,” Hornby said before the signing. “Each book feels like the next station stop on a line. Each book is somehow organically connected to the last.”
Hornby has experience as a journalist and writes a column called “Stuff I've Been Reading” for Believer,a literary magazine. But,he said,”My day job is writing fiction.”
The novelist has made his career playing off both his “real emotional life” and his natural pessimistic,cynical temperament. “But,nothing from my narrative life. I use stuff from inside of me.”
He said he is “more connected with American literature” than British,because Americans are “more demonic. They are more comfortable with humor,changes in tone.”
Hornby,who describes himself as a “soul writer,” said there are some mood and humor similarities in “Slam” and his previous novels.
In the past,he has made his intense fixation on a British soccer team seem mundane in “Fever Pitch,” which was later adapted for the silver screen featuring the Boston Red Sox.
“I'm a big hero worshipper,” Hornby said. “It was like letting Jesus into our lives. It's such a pleasure to watch [the game].”
Hornby is a music addict as well.
He dissected the psyche of a young man going through yet another breakup in “High Fidelity.” He reveals the character's prolonged misery,coping through his overriding passion for music,his only true love. The book was also made into a movie.
Later he wrote about a top-notch woman doctor whose marriage is unraveling as she watches her husband lose his mind in “How To Be Good.”
“What you don't ever catch a glimpse of on your wedding day … is that some days you will hate your spouse,that you will look at him and regret ever exchanging a word with him,let alone a ring and bodily fluids,” Hornby wrote in “How To Be Good.”
It is lines like this that make Hornby one of the most popular authors writing about pop culture and people.
“I have fun with his books,” said Elsa Ubeda,29,of Washington,at Olsson's. “Because I love music and I know what it's like being obsessed by music.”
Others find his books inspiring.
“I'm 34 and still single,” said Melissa Chiu,who works for the federal government in Washington. “[His books] give me hope that men can grow up and become men in committed,healthy relationships.”
Hornby said he is “idea driven” and gets his inspiration from anything from a magazine to “seeing a person on a bus. It's what I do.”
Asked to name his favorite book,Hornby said,”I can't say. It feels like a betrayal of all others.”
Hornby is touring to promote “Slam” through October.
Oct. 22,San Francisco and Danville,Calif.
Oct. 23,Menolo Park,Calif.
Oct. 25,Los Angeles