Every year, our family escapes the normally drab, gray Oklahoma winter for several days of waist-high snow and skiing in Colorado, but this year, the snow we left was almost as high as the snow that greets us upon our arrival in Aspen. However, I feel somewhat consoled by the fact that we no longer have to hear about (insert overly dramatic music here) “The Blizzard of ’11” on local news or be inundated with the zippy and newly-hair-extensioned Meg Alexander reciting the same “SHOCKING” stories of survival and rescue hour after hour. That alone is well worth getting up in the middle of the night and battling the frigid temperatures with three still-sleepy kids to make our 7a.m. flight!
We arrive in Aspen before lunchtime, and my husband and the kiddos are off for their first-ever afternoon of snowboarding while I, who refuse to participate in all downhill sports after a knee injury last year, pack a book, sling my camera over my shoulder, and head out to explore the town.
I usually pack a couple of books for a trip, but this time I must have completely lost my mind because I threw just one in my bag, and I read most of it on the plane. As most reading addicts do when they don’t have a new book in the pipeline, I feel in a bit of a panic with only 30 pages to go on this book and nothing to follow it up with … especially on vacation, which, with kids and the hubby off doing their own thing, provides the best uninterrupted reading time I get all year.
So, the first order of business after grabbing some lunch and reading the last of book #1 is to find a new book to read … and pronto! I wander through the old mining town, taking in the great Victorian architecture and fancy shmancy shops (Louis Vuitton in a town of just 6,000 permanent residents — amazing!), ogling at all of the beautiful people covered head to toe in luscious fur, and checking out the uber-pricey but very interesting antique stores. Then, across the street, I see a sign that makes me jump up and down with delight … Thrift Store! Here in Aspen! Oh, happy day!
I skip across the snow-packed street like a giddy two-year-old and make my way to the only store on the block that seems packed with people. When I open the door, I feel the familiar, faint musty closet smell that seems to permeate all second-hand shops, and I know I’m at home among the barely-surviving ski instructors, ritzy tourists looking for a good deal, and less-affluent locals who are lucky enough to call this posh winter paradise home.
After browsing around and finding a great 60’s mod wool sweater that will look great on me in 10 pounds (which, in reality, means it will probably spend the rest of its life sitting on my closet shelf), I head over to the well-stocked book section. There, an elderly man bundled in his three ski layers and an unshaven, dreadlocked 20-something donning a holey wool sweater and faded jeans dance around each other to look at all of the books. I join in, creating a polite book lover’s menage-a-trois of “excuse me’s” and “I’ll trade places with you” until I see it … my next literary victim.
Quietly tucked away among the dozens of James Patterson thrillers and glitzy romance novels is a book I’ve had on my never-ending mental reading list for a good decade … High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. Oh yeah, this is it, definitely. I quickly grab the paperback before my book-ended cohorts can get a glimpse of the treasure I found among the self-help guides and Ken Follett novels, and I slowly back away, letting them resume their funny dance for two.
I politely nudge past a tired-looking mother and her two small children, one of whom is whining to get the half-slumped Elmo doll sitting on a shelf right at her eye level, and I make my way to the checkout counter. I happily dole out a whopping $5 for the sweater and book, then I exit my new favorite store in Aspen in search of a place to park myself and read for awhile.
Down the street past the Ralph Lauren store and a few galleries, I find a little bakery with the taunting odor of chocolate chip cookies beckoning, and, rationalizing that I am, after all, on holiday and deserve a sweetie, I follow my nose inside, order a yummy cookie, and sit down with the tasty treat on a warm plate in front of me and Nick Hornby right next to it.
Now, if you’re any kind of book lover, you know that before you open one page, you have to take the time to savor the physical book itself, which is why I will probably never own a Kindle. It’s a beautiful ritual, this getting to know the book. First, you have to hold the tome in one hand to see how heavy it is, then you must fan the pages to view all of the words you’ll soon be devouring, then you will look at the front cover illustration to get an idea of the other-world you’re about to enter. Next, you can read the synopsis on the front flap, browse the comments on the back cover, and, perhaps most importantly, check out the photo of the author on the back flap and see what he, in this case, has to say about himself and his work. Only then can you open the book to Page 1 and start reading.
So, with a piece of a yummy, melty cookie in one hand and the book in the other, I start reading … and reading … and reading … and wondering why on earth it has taken me so long to pick up this book. I’ve been a Nick Hornby fan for ages and have read most of his books, but not this one. I guess it’s because I’ve seen the movie several times, and although I love John Cusack and enjoyed the snappy dialogue of the film, I’ve always thought the movie was, I don’t know, a bit whiney, maybe more whiney than funny, I guess. So, although I’ve kept it on my mental list all these years, I can’t say that I’ve been dying to read the book.
But, here I am, cookie long gone and bakery evacuating for the day, and all I can think is to go someplace else where I can camp out for the rest of the afternoon and voraciously gobble up each and every brilliant word. It’s mid-afternoon now, and the rest of the gang won’t be back for a few hours, so I head to someplace I know will be open for a long time and no one will bother me … Starbuck’s.
I leave the bakery with my new literary treasure tucked under a very protective arm and walk the several blocks through sub-zero temperatures to Starbuck’s, a warm, inviting refuge from the increasingly bleak day outside. I get a coffee and find a cozy comfy chair where I plan to spend the rest of the daylight hours and go back to Nick Hornby … or, I should say, his main character, Rob.
In case you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, here’s a very brief and hopefully tantalizing synopsis: Rob is a 36-year-old, emotionally stunted record shop owner in London who can’t seem to grow up or commit to anything more than making up “top five” lists with his equally sophomoric but wholly endearing employees, Barry and Dick. When his longtime live-in girlfriend, Laura, leaves him for the another man, Rob stops to reassess his life and loves, with some very funny results.
And, now that I’ve completed the two-sentence synopsis of the book that doesn’t even begin to explain how engrossing or cleverly written it is, I realize that my bottom has been planted in the same chair for well over an hour now, allowing me to view a great gaggle of characters take the chair opposite from me and live little vignettes of their lives for me to watch. Oh glory! It’s people watching time!
Just now, a tall, thin, darkly handsome guy sits across from me, starts listening to his iPod while staring blankly out the window at the skiiers coming off the Aspen Mountain lifts. He is, quite simply, beautiful, and I find it very difficult to not peek over my book and ogle at him.
My camera sits with me in the cozy comfy chair, and I try to look like I’m still reading and completely unaware of my surroundings while I slowly dig it out, turn it on, and snap Mr. Beautiful-Perfect-Creature as he reads a text on his phone.
I begin to think that this might become my favorite shot of the day when, with a heavy sigh, he gets up and vacates his chair, puts on his coat, and with now-slumped shoulders, leaves the coffee shop. I don’t know what his message said, but he certainly left a sadder man than he was when he arrived. Maybe, like Rob, he’s just been dumped, too.
I’m sad for him but he’s soon history as I rejoin Rob and Laura (did Nick Hornby watch The Dick Van Dyke Show as a kid?) and their ensuing drama and top five lists. Laura’s father has died, and Rob, Dick, and Barry are arguing over which five songs should be played at his funeral:
[Barry says,] “A Laura’s Dad Tribute List. OK, OK. ‘Leader of the Pack.’ The old bloke dies on his motorbike, doesn’t he? And then there’s ‘Dead Man’s Curve’ by Jan and Dean, and ‘Terry,’ by Twinkle. Ummm … that Bobby Goldsboro one, you know, ‘And Honey, I Miss You…'” He sings it off-key, even more so than he would have done normally, and Dick laughs. “And what about ‘Tell Laura I Love Her.’ That’d bring the house down.” I’m glad that Laura isn’t here to see how much amusement her father’s death has afforded us.
I’m envisioning Laura’s dad’s quiet, respectable English funeral being shocked awake with The Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” blaring, “Look out, look out, look out,” and the sound of his bike crashing when I look up to see a new tenant in the chair across from me. This time, it’s a young family — model-beautiful, Nordic-looking mom, handsome and very attentive dad, and the cutest little almost-person I’ve ever seen. The baby is sipping a drink, and the parents look at him and each other, obviously very proud of what their combined genes have created. They are the perfect, happy family, and I smile in their direction knowing that this cocoon of joy will be a fading memory once munchkin begins walking and getting into everything.
I get a shot of the Beautiful Family and the baby looking right at me, then they are gone, replaced by another guy toying with his phone — Dear God, what did we do before electronic devices? At the table next to him sits a lady with the most amazing profile I’ve ever seen; I wonder what she’s thinking about.
He leaves, then Ms. Perfect Profile follows, and a girl takes the man’s still-warm chair and begins unfolding a huge map of the Aspen ski trails.
Soon, she, too, is gone, and I’m well over half-way through High Fidelity. Damn, I’m not ready to be done with this book yet. I’m lamenting my sad state when an elderly man arrives and takes Map Girl’s place. He reads his paper and drinks his coffee, and I …
Darn, I think he caught me taking a photo of him in mid-sip. He puts down his coffee cup and smiles in my direction. I quickly go back to Nick Hornby, but I can feel the man staring at me now. I look up, and he smiles a very toothy grin again.
With no choice now but to engage him in conversation, I introduce myself and the silence of my afternoon is firmly broken by Clive’s friendly, somewhat nervous and very British chatter. However, I find him so sweet and entertaining that I don’t mind a bit. Within a few minutes of meeting, I learn that he’s in Aspen for three weeks of skiing with his family and that he lives on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. Interesting. I begin questioning him about his hometown — or home island, I should say — and I can now say that I truly believe I have become an expert on everything related to the Isle of Man, thanks to my new friend.
Here are the top five things to know about the Isle of Man to impress your trivia-minded friends:
- The Isle of Man is an autonomous nation that claims the oldest parliament in the world (from the 900s).
- The capital is Douglas.
- The famous Manx cat (you know, the one with no tail) calls the Isle of Man home.
- There is a famous motorcycle race there every year, and, according to Clive, it’s such a treacherous course that there’s usually a good maiming or death or two to make for a really good show.
- Their flag is a field of red with a funky looking, three legged running thing called a triskelion in the middle:
Clive and I chat for a few more minutes, then he’s up and away to rejoin his family on the slopes, and I’m once again alone to soak up the last of High Fidelity.
Rob and Laura are back together, and he’s trying to figure out what he wants to do with his professional life because the record store isn’t doing very well, so, of course, he draws up a list of his top five dream jobs:
- New Musical Express journalist, 1976-1979. Get to meet the Clash, Sex Pistols, Chrissie Hynde, Danny Baker, etc. Get loads of free records — good ones, too. Go on to host my own quiz show or something.
- Producer, Atlantic Records, 1964-1971 (approx.). Get to meet Aretha, Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, etc. Get loads of free records (probably) — good ones, too. Make piles of money.
- Any kind of musician (apart from classical or rap). Speaks for itself. But I’d have settled just for being one of the Memphis Horns — I’m not asking to be Hendrix or Jagger or Otis Redding.
- Film director. Again, any kind, although preferably not German or silent.
- Architect. A surprise entry at number 5, I know, but I used to be quite good at technical drawing at school.
Oh Rob, Rob. I don’t suppose he’ll ever really grow up, but Laura doesn’t seem to mind, and they are well on the way to mending their relationship when I finish the last page and leave their world for good. Sighing a sad goodbye to the best book I’ve read in months, I glance up at the chair across from me. For the first time all afternoon, it is empty. I look around and realize that it’s beginning to get dark out, and I’m the last patron at Starbucks.
Alas, that means it’s time to go, but not before I give you one last top five — this time of must-read-or-see Nick Hornby treasures:
- Well, since I’ve spent most of this article writing about it, I’d start with High Fidelity — the book, not the movie (which is good in a whiney kind of way but doesn’t compare to the brilliance of the book). If you’ve ever had your heart broken, you will relate to Nick’s pain and desire to understand how he ended up at this place in his life. You will also giggle your way through his many mess ups and astute observations.
- About a Boy, the book. Although I love High Fidelity, I really think that this is my favorite of Nick Hornby’s compositions. Will is a super trendy, 30-something bachelor who decides to join a single parents group to score with lonely moms, but when he meets a troubled Fiona and her equally troubled and very quirky son, Marcus, Will gets a lot more than he bargained for.
- About a Boy, the movie. This is one of those movies that I can see over and over again and never once get tired of. Hugh Grant plays superficial Will to perfection, a young Nicholas Hoult embodies Marcus’s pathos in a way that’s quite remarkable for a kid his age, and the always-outstanding Toni Collette should have been nominated for an Oscar for her searing portrayal of Fiona. With all of these incredible performances, I think the real scene stealer is the beyond-brilliant soundtrack by Badly Drawn Boy (a.k.a. Damon Gough). This is truly one of the top five best soundtracks in all of filmdom (oh no, I’m starting to sound like Rob!).
- How to Be Good. Oh, I love this book. Katie is somewhat happily married to David, “The Angriest Man in Holloway.” When she cheats on him, David does a complete about face and with the help of a faith healer named Dr. Goodnews, he transforms into an overly generous do-gooder, with often hilarious results. This is a book that will have you cracking up one minute and examining your own “goodness” the next.
- An Education. Hornby was nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay for his sensitive adaptation of this beautiful film about a 60’s teenaged girl (Carey Mulligan) who is expertly seduced by a seemingly affluent and very charming older man (Peter Sarsgaard). This was my favorite movie of 2009, and to say that I was disappointed when Geoffrey Fletcher won for Precious would be a vast understatement.
Damn, I’m not very good with this Top Five thing – I didn’t get a chance to mention A Long Way Down or Juliet, Naked or Slam or Fever Pitch! So, instead of confining myself with this silly list, I’ll just say this: go read or watch something, anything Nick Hornby right away and let me know what you think!
(c) Lynne Rostochil All rights reserved. Get in touch with Lynne for fun, or to email her your feedback.