Nick Hornby, the best-selling novelist, essayist, lyricist, and screenwriter, says his wife got cross at him while they were house hunting because he preferred the houses with shelves of good books. Hornby reads from his new novel “Funny Girl” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the First Parish Church. Tickets for the event, which is sponsored by Harvard Book Store, are $5.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
HORNBY: Ann Patchett’s collection of essays “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.’’ She’s very smart and writes really well. I would argue some points with her, but that’s OK.
BOOKS: What’s the last book you bought?
HORNBY: David Margolick’s “Elizabeth and Hazel,” which is about a photo taken in 1957 of a black girl going to school and the white girl who is in her face. It’s about what happened to each girl later. I bought the book because I’d just seen the movie “Selma.” Whether I’ll still be in a “Selma” state of mind by the time I finish the Patchett, I don’t know. Something that speaks to you in a bookshop might not speak to you in a day or week or it might never speak to you again.
BOOKS: Do you feel guilty about the books you buy and don’t read?
HORNBY: I’ve stopped feeling guilty about buying books. It’s great to support writing and writers. Also, one of the best ways to express who you are is to buy books. The books on your shelves are a much more precise expression of self than the paintings you can afford to hang on your walls.
BOOKS: Could you name a book you bought that has been sitting there for years?
HORNBY: I haven’t read Proust and I have bought Proust. The people that read Proust never say “Read this if it’s the last thing you do.” They say things like, “Well, I got through it.”
BOOKS: Do you read mostly contemporary work?
HORNBY: I have pretty much since college. My exception is Dickens, whom I adore. I reread great “Great Expectations” last year. As I get older I can spot the ropier parts quicker. When I read it at 21 I thought everything he did was completely amazing. Now I can see that the woman aren’t very good. They can slow the books down.
BOOKS: Do you read about music or musicians?
HORNBY: Not a great deal. I only read the very best music books. Donald Fagan’s memoir “Eminent Hipsters” is great. Bob Dylan’s memoir “Chronicles” and Patty Smith’s “Just Kids” are both incredible. I love books about movies. Mark Harris’s “Pictures at a Revolution,” which is about the five best picture nominees for Oscars in 1968, is one of my favorite books. It takes that ceremony as a point at which old Hollywood is dying and new Hollywood is being born.
BOOKS: When you taught high school English, which authors did you find the hardest to teach?
HORNBY: I hated teaching Shakespeare. In order for the students to understand what was going on you had to tell them the story of “Macbeth” or whatever. Shakespeare is about character and language, and they didn’t get any of that. The experience of that made me think all different sorts of things about books. I’m passionately convinced that as long as students read it doesn’t matter what they read. The idea that there is a certain kind of book that they should read is wrong and does way more damage than good. I feel that way for everyone.
BOOKS: How so?
HORNBY: When most people come in from work, 95 percent of them reach for the remote control. Then they read before they go to sleep, to get off to sleep. They do that because reading feels like a duty, and TV feels like fun. No one slogs through every episode of a series they don’t like. They turn if off. You have to rethink your relationship with reading. If it’s not gripping you, you are reading the wrong book.