Friday, July 3, 2015

Nick Hornby Provides a Laughter and Light Reading

I'd love to have someone do a psychological analysis based solely on my reading list. I appreciated an observation by Dylan Thomas about his own habits: "I read indiscriminately and with my eyes hanging out."

I admit that I do discriminate sometimes, simply because I have so many choices. If I start a book and can tell right away it doesn't fit the bill, I will abandon it. Life's too short, and my book stack is too high.  In fact, the mere process of picking what to read next fills me with anxiety. Anything I choose means something else I postpone.

One of the perks, then, of audiobooks is that they are not in direct competition with the books on my shelves. While I could read while driving (and I'll confess that I have in the past), it's inadvisable.  As a result, my selection is narrowed to what I can find on the library shelves. Even though I work through the stacks of four different libraries, I'm less likely to go and find a specific book I was looking for than to discover something I just might want to read.

Funny Girl, Nick Hornby's latest, was just such a discovery. I had read (or listened to--honestly can't remember) Juliet Naked. I also have a couple of other novels of his on my shelves. This one, set in the sixties, follows a young woman, Barbara from Blackpool, a town in Northern England, who gives up her "Miss Blackpool" tiara within minutes of being selected, realizing she has little interest in going to ribbon cuttings at strip malls or making appearances at senior living facilities. She wants to be a comedian.

She goes instead to London, where she ends up working at the cosmetics counter of a department store--just as she had back home. Following a roommate's advice, she tries to meet men who might help her gain an advantage. While the plan doesn't work out quite right, by chance she does meet Brian, the man who opens doors for her--just not the ones he intended. A self-proclaimed "happily married man"--His wife is with him when he meets Barbara--he expects to "spray her gold and put her in a bikini." Instead, she goes to an interview for a 30-minute BBC show and lands the part of her life.

Hornby pulls together such a fun, quirky cast--Billy and Tony, the two script writers who met in jail; Clive, the actor who plays opposite Barbara but who gets second billing (in brackets in the title; and Dennis, the show's director who keeps his adoration of Barbara--with her new name Sophie Straw--quietly in check.

Funny Girl won't end up on high school summer reading or AP Lit recommendation lists, but it's great for a summer read.  Even better, it's perfect for a long drive, just enough time to fall in love with   a funny girl whose dreams come true.

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