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How to Be Good

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In Nick Hornby's How to Be Good, Katie Carr is certainly trying to be. That's why she became a GP. That's why she cares about Third World debt and homelessness, and struggles to raise her children with a conscience. It's also why she puts up with her husband David, the self-styled Angriest Man in Holloway. But one fateful day, she finds herself in a Leeds parking lot, havi In Nick Hornby's How to Be Good, Katie Carr is certainly trying to be. That's why she became a GP. That's why she cares about Third World debt and homelessness, and struggles to raise her children with a conscience. It's also why she puts up with her husband David, the self-styled Angriest Man in Holloway. But one fateful day, she finds herself in a Leeds parking lot, having just slept with another man. What Katie doesn't yet realize is that her fall from grace is just the first step on a spiritual journey more torturous than the interstate at rush hour. Because, prompted by his wife's actions, David is about to stop being angry. He's about to become good--not politically correct, organic-food-eating good, but good in the fashion of the Gospels. And that's no easier in modern-day Holloway than it was in ancient Israel. Hornby means us to take his title literally: How can we be good, and what does that mean? However, quite apart from demanding that his readers scrub their souls with the nearest available Brillo pad, he also mesmerizes us with that cocktail of wit and compassion that has become his trademark. The result is a multifaceted jewel of a book: a hilarious romp, a painstaking dissection of middle-class mores, and a powerfully sympathetic portrait of a marriage in its death throes. It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry as we watch David forcing his kids to give away their computers, drawing up schemes for the mass redistribution of wealth, and inviting his wife's most desolate patients round for a Sunday roast. But that's because How to Be Good manages to be both brutally truthful and full of hope. It won't outsell the Bible, but it's a lot funnier. --Matthew Baylis From Publishers Weekly Kate, a doctor, wife and mother, is in the midst of a difficult decision: whether to leave or stay with her bitter, sarcastic husband David (who proudly writes a local newspaper column called "The Angriest Man in Holloway"). The long-term marriage has gone stale, but is it worth uprooting the children and the comfortable lifestyle? Then David meets a faith healer called Dr. Goodnews, and suddenly converts to an idealistic do-gooder: donating the children's computer to an orphanage, giving away the family's Sunday dinner to homeless people and inviting runaways to stay in the guest room (and convincing the neighbors to do likewise). Barber gives an outstanding performance as Kate, humorously conveying her mounting irritation at having her money and belongings donated to strangers, her guilt at not feeling more generous and her hilarious desire for revenge. Barber brilliantly portrays each eccentric character: hippie-ish Goodnews, crusading David, petulant children and, poignantly, the hesitant, halting Barmy Brian, a mentally deficient patient of Kate's who needs looking after. Barber's stellar performance turns a worthy novel into a must-listen event. Simultaneous release with Riverhead hardcover (Forecasts, June 25).


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In Nick Hornby's How to Be Good, Katie Carr is certainly trying to be. That's why she became a GP. That's why she cares about Third World debt and homelessness, and struggles to raise her children with a conscience. It's also why she puts up with her husband David, the self-styled Angriest Man in Holloway. But one fateful day, she finds herself in a Leeds parking lot, havi In Nick Hornby's How to Be Good, Katie Carr is certainly trying to be. That's why she became a GP. That's why she cares about Third World debt and homelessness, and struggles to raise her children with a conscience. It's also why she puts up with her husband David, the self-styled Angriest Man in Holloway. But one fateful day, she finds herself in a Leeds parking lot, having just slept with another man. What Katie doesn't yet realize is that her fall from grace is just the first step on a spiritual journey more torturous than the interstate at rush hour. Because, prompted by his wife's actions, David is about to stop being angry. He's about to become good--not politically correct, organic-food-eating good, but good in the fashion of the Gospels. And that's no easier in modern-day Holloway than it was in ancient Israel. Hornby means us to take his title literally: How can we be good, and what does that mean? However, quite apart from demanding that his readers scrub their souls with the nearest available Brillo pad, he also mesmerizes us with that cocktail of wit and compassion that has become his trademark. The result is a multifaceted jewel of a book: a hilarious romp, a painstaking dissection of middle-class mores, and a powerfully sympathetic portrait of a marriage in its death throes. It's hard to know whether to laugh or cry as we watch David forcing his kids to give away their computers, drawing up schemes for the mass redistribution of wealth, and inviting his wife's most desolate patients round for a Sunday roast. But that's because How to Be Good manages to be both brutally truthful and full of hope. It won't outsell the Bible, but it's a lot funnier. --Matthew Baylis From Publishers Weekly Kate, a doctor, wife and mother, is in the midst of a difficult decision: whether to leave or stay with her bitter, sarcastic husband David (who proudly writes a local newspaper column called "The Angriest Man in Holloway"). The long-term marriage has gone stale, but is it worth uprooting the children and the comfortable lifestyle? Then David meets a faith healer called Dr. Goodnews, and suddenly converts to an idealistic do-gooder: donating the children's computer to an orphanage, giving away the family's Sunday dinner to homeless people and inviting runaways to stay in the guest room (and convincing the neighbors to do likewise). Barber gives an outstanding performance as Kate, humorously conveying her mounting irritation at having her money and belongings donated to strangers, her guilt at not feeling more generous and her hilarious desire for revenge. Barber brilliantly portrays each eccentric character: hippie-ish Goodnews, crusading David, petulant children and, poignantly, the hesitant, halting Barmy Brian, a mentally deficient patient of Kate's who needs looking after. Barber's stellar performance turns a worthy novel into a must-listen event. Simultaneous release with Riverhead hardcover (Forecasts, June 25).

30 review for How to Be Good

  1. 4 out of 5

    Libby

    I think "How to be Good" certainly divided fans of Hornby who were used to his musical themes in High Fidelity and 31 Songs and his style in About a Boy. He was given a lot of criticism for writing the book from the perspective of a middle aged female but this did not bother me in the slightest. In fact I thought the book was witty and well written. I found myself identifying with Katie, despite her whiny repetitive moments. I loved her inner voice - I found things written on the page that I hav I think "How to be Good" certainly divided fans of Hornby who were used to his musical themes in High Fidelity and 31 Songs and his style in About a Boy. He was given a lot of criticism for writing the book from the perspective of a middle aged female but this did not bother me in the slightest. In fact I thought the book was witty and well written. I found myself identifying with Katie, despite her whiny repetitive moments. I loved her inner voice - I found things written on the page that I have never heard expressed before and believed only existed in the deepest recesses of peoples supressed innner life. I think Hornby is a master at capturing these secret inner lives we lead. The book was not predictable or trite or a simple comedy of manners and it dealt with a subject I have been very interested in, and have been reevaluating of late. So in short - I loved it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Shaina

    To say I didn't get this book would be a profound understatement. Near as I can tell, it's about all the terrible, mundane ways life can grind you down, how hypocracy gets all of us in the end, and the way what was once beloved can turn into what you hate in the ones you used to love. I found this book tremendously depressing. Also, it made me never want to get married or have kids. Ever. I was tremendously disappointed in the ending as well, at the same time as I admired Hornby's technical skill. To say I didn't get this book would be a profound understatement. Near as I can tell, it's about all the terrible, mundane ways life can grind you down, how hypocracy gets all of us in the end, and the way what was once beloved can turn into what you hate in the ones you used to love. I found this book tremendously depressing. Also, it made me never want to get married or have kids. Ever. I was tremendously disappointed in the ending as well, at the same time as I admired Hornby's technical skill. In general, I found the writing style to be too spare for my tastes, though it did add to the sensation of walking through a barren wasteland in search of color and contrast.

  3. 4 out of 5

    will

    how to be good As long time readers know (or maybe you don't) Maria and I read to each other. One of the joys of "naked Sunday" is the fact that we don't have to get up, spend the day wandering around the flat in our pyjamas (just 'cos it is called "naked Sunday" doesn't necessarily mean that we spend the day nekkid!), basically just slob about. This Sunday we spent the whole morning (and a bit of the afternoon) in bed. We ate cereal, we drank cokes and we ate our way through a huge box of Runts. how to be good As long time readers know (or maybe you don't) Maria and I read to each other. One of the joys of "naked Sunday" is the fact that we don't have to get up, spend the day wandering around the flat in our pyjamas (just 'cos it is called "naked Sunday" doesn't necessarily mean that we spend the day nekkid!), basically just slob about. This Sunday we spent the whole morning (and a bit of the afternoon) in bed. We ate cereal, we drank cokes and we ate our way through a huge box of Runts. While we were doing this I read to Maria. I love Nick Hornby. A lot of what he writes speaks to me directly. I can understand everything he goes through in "Fever Pitch" - hell, replace the word Arsenal for Sheffield United and it is probably my story. I know the characters in "High Fidelity", really know. But in this case I was reading "How to be Good". I am a bleeding-heart, yoghurt-eating, tree-hugging, grauniad-reading liberal (I draw the line at sandal-wearing). The book is very funny, the book is very clever, the book points out all those little problems that we b-h, y-e, t-h, g-r liberals have to face. How in the 21st century do I come to terms with driving a car, owning property, earning more than the minimum wage when there are starving people in Africa? Well, the fact is I give the odd 50p (peso) to a homeless person, I phone in my credit card donation to Live Aid, some of my best friends are not white. The book asks the hard questions - what if you actually did become a fully-fledged b-h, y-e, t-h, g-r liberal - what if you actually took a homeless person in - what if you tried to solve all the big/global problems but in a small/personal way. Many of the ideas made me cringe - but in that way that "The Office" makes you cringe. 'Twas a jolly good read. Gotta lurve Nick Hornby.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    As I started reading this I said to myself, “Jeff, maybe your first Hornby book probably should have been High Fidelity not this one.” The narrator’s a 40ish British woman who’s married to an angry guy and who has two kids and is currently having an affair, but you know brutal cynicism and snark transcend everything. It really does. The questions is thus: If your spouse, suddenly goes from Mr./Mrs. Truculent, spewing venom everywhere, to someone who wants to do nothing but good deeds, do you: 1) As I started reading this I said to myself, “Jeff, maybe your first Hornby book probably should have been High Fidelity not this one.” The narrator’s a 40ish British woman who’s married to an angry guy and who has two kids and is currently having an affair, but you know brutal cynicism and snark transcend everything. It really does. The questions is thus: If your spouse, suddenly goes from Mr./Mrs. Truculent, spewing venom everywhere, to someone who wants to do nothing but good deeds, do you: 1) Insist upon having their head examined (My choice)? 2) Do you remain on the sidelines and lob sarcasm and jaded remarks and try to undercut all the goodness (Her choice, my second choice)? 3) Do you become an official doer of good deeds(HA! Let’s face it, no one’s choice)? Hornby’s a funny and insightful writer, but even I was turning away from the world weary voice of sardonicism by mid-way through the book. Too much of a good thing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Clausen

    A Nick Hornby book through and through -- whatever that means to you! "A Long Way Down" is still my favorite. "About a Boy" is still my second favorite. And this book would bring up the back since I've only read three Hornby books. Even if it's lesser than these other two books, it still has that Hornby charm. What is the Hornby charm? Take an interesting situation (an affair by a self-defined "good person"), add some eccentric details and characters (a faith healer named DJ FeelGood), frustrate A Nick Hornby book through and through -- whatever that means to you! "A Long Way Down" is still my favorite. "About a Boy" is still my second favorite. And this book would bring up the back since I've only read three Hornby books. Even if it's lesser than these other two books, it still has that Hornby charm. What is the Hornby charm? Take an interesting situation (an affair by a self-defined "good person"), add some eccentric details and characters (a faith healer named DJ FeelGood), frustrate your expectations and your desire for a clear-cut resolution to very human problems (divorce and finding happiness), but never go to a place that feels like all hope is lost. Hornby will resolve your very human problems very problematically with loose ends and upset expectations...it's as frustrating as life, but never as frustrating as tragedy; at times uplifting, often funny... So, what's the problem, if any? Well, just like a mainstream movie from a well-known director, you might get tired of the formula, you might read the next move a little too well, and -- if the book is easy to consume -- well, then you might be left wanting not just fiction, but genuine literature... ...and thus, my next read will be something more serious. Moby Dick should do the trick!

  6. 4 out of 5

    [Shai] Bibliophage

    I did enjoy some parts of this novel but others are quite inscrutable. I would try to read another book of Hornby, maybe High Fidelity or About A Boy, and let's see if he will persuade me to add him on my favorite authors.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Zaki

    How to Be Good could have appropriately been titled Who Gives a Shit? or How to be Good for Nothing because that's what Nick Hornby is with his cheesy writing style and trite observations.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jon Cox

    The last sentence of this book made me feel daft. I think I pretty much comprehended the majority of the book: the mild, slightly frantic despair that the main character feels over a marriage that is mutually dissatisfactory; the duplicitious and hypocritical nature of trying too hard to do good things when your own life is in shambles and you can't have fulfilling relationships with people that you actually know; the ambiguity that someone can feel when no option is without unacceptable costs. The last sentence of this book made me feel daft. I think I pretty much comprehended the majority of the book: the mild, slightly frantic despair that the main character feels over a marriage that is mutually dissatisfactory; the duplicitious and hypocritical nature of trying too hard to do good things when your own life is in shambles and you can't have fulfilling relationships with people that you actually know; the ambiguity that someone can feel when no option is without unacceptable costs. In fact, I think the most interesting thing about the book is how Hornby illustrats the protagonist's focus on herself and her constant rationalization of her poor choices. She teeters on the edge of actually taking responsibility for her mistakes, but never quite realizes that her choices are what lead her to unhappiness. Rather, she blames her husband for her choices. Instead of making the real life changes that would come from taking responsibility and trying to fix things a bit by being less selfish, she eventually decides that finding some time for herself to read and listen to music may enable her to limp along for the next fifteen years in moderately acute displeasure and unhappiness. I'm not saying that taking time for yourself to read and listen to music is bad. Quite the opposite. I think everyone should find things that they like to do for themselves so they can relax and rejuvinate, feel accomplished. I just don't think that doing so is a valid replacement for owning up to your mistakes properly and making the hard personality changes to start treating others better. This, the protagonist obtusely refuses to do. Other than the last line, my issues with the book focus more on the story than the writting. Up until the complete change in personality of the husband, which is just not realistic at all, Hornby does an incredible job at describing the horror of a rotten marriage and the selfishness of someone who cannot see their contribution to the mire. Then the whole random mystic healing thing leads to the complete personality change, and suddenly the husband is not only no longer angry, but can not longer even recognize sarcasm or humor. That just wouldn't happen. It's a big pill to swallow. I suspended my disbelief to finish the story and see what Hornby has to say, but I think he could have gotten to the same place in the story without resorting to the outrageous and unbelievable. Eventually, it works itself out, but not completely. So the story is a bit tough to buy, but it can be done. But that last line of the book is just a gargantuan puzzler. The entire book was clearly written, except the last line. Hornby suddenly, abruptly, uncharacteristically, violently jumps tracks into an affected symbolism that contrasts glaringly with the rest of the writting in the book. It's really quite ugly and ungainly. If I could only change one thing about the book, I would probably choose to change that last few words, even over the whole husband's personality change thing. I would change it to say, "...I wonder if I can keep it alive indefinitely." I figure that's what Hornby was trying to say anyway.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    Loved this book! I didn't think I would, actually, because it opens with the decaying of a marriage between two Brits with kids. The subject just doesn't grab me much, I mean, as escapist reading why would I want to read about an unhappy marriage? Before I knew it, though, I was sucked in by the marvelous writing and witty humor of Nick Hornby. I had no idea where this book was going. There are so many unpredictable twists and turns and just when you think it couldn't get any crazier, it does. An Loved this book! I didn't think I would, actually, because it opens with the decaying of a marriage between two Brits with kids. The subject just doesn't grab me much, I mean, as escapist reading why would I want to read about an unhappy marriage? Before I knew it, though, I was sucked in by the marvelous writing and witty humor of Nick Hornby. I had no idea where this book was going. There are so many unpredictable twists and turns and just when you think it couldn't get any crazier, it does. And it's lovely. Rather than give away any of that loveliness, the surprises and twists and delicious ridiculousness of it all, I will just say that while it starts out as a story about the failing of a marriage what it becomes is much deeper and personal and provoking and circular than you would otherwise imagine. I realize that I'm being very vague, but you would be happier discovering the plot twists for yourself. You'll just have to trust me.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Eddie Owens

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Ok it's called "How to be Good", so I will try to be good. It's an interesting idea that doesn't go anywhere, and on that basis, it should have been written as a short story. Here's why it didn't go anywhere. The characters are one dimensional, there are no backstories, nothing is done with this miraculous faith healer. We don't get to find out why David is so broken and cynical, and we are only told in reported speech about his conversion. This is the crux of the book for fuck's sake. Someone unde Ok it's called "How to be Good", so I will try to be good. It's an interesting idea that doesn't go anywhere, and on that basis, it should have been written as a short story. Here's why it didn't go anywhere. The characters are one dimensional, there are no backstories, nothing is done with this miraculous faith healer. We don't get to find out why David is so broken and cynical, and we are only told in reported speech about his conversion. This is the crux of the book for fuck's sake. Someone undergoes a complete personality change, I think we need to see it. Goodnews can perform miracles with his healing powers, so why isn't he already on the telly and in the tabloids? The premise that David and Goodness want to do good deeds would be easily covered by making Goodnews a billionaire, then they could give all that money away. Ok, sorry, trying to be good. Hornby has tried something different and he is trying to write about a real couple having problems. So, props for that, but unfortunately, it's as boring as fuck. Katie - the doctor / wife - is a saint to have put with David for as long as she has already, but when he starts talking bollocks and giving away the kid's computers , anyone would kick him out, but she doesn't, she tries to understand him. Oh really! I can't be good any longer. This book is deathly dull. I blame the author for being self-indulgent and writing it, but I also blame his editors, agent and publisher who all let this book go to print. Someone has to stand up and say, "Nick, this is really bad." But after three bestsellers, it seems no-one had the gumption to do it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ivan

    I seen this book on my sister's shelf and asked her about it and her replay was:"It's horrible, characters are so annoying I wanted to torture them". So as Calvin said, that piqued my curiosity.Can it really be that bad?Turns out that it can be as I found no redeeming part. I seen this book on my sister's shelf and asked her about it and her replay was:"It's horrible, characters are so annoying I wanted to torture them". So as Calvin said, that piqued my curiosity.Can it really be that bad?Turns out that it can be as I found no redeeming part.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Antof9

    This book made me sad. It was really, really depressing. In fact, so much that it actually put me in a bad mood while I was reading it. Don't get me wrong; there were flashes of humor, clever writing, and certainly it begs a lot of introspection. But it was a real downer. None of the hope of "About a Boy", and although I haven't read "High Fidelity", I've seen that movie, and I think that had hope too. So here's what I started writing after the first section for BBC last Saturday: "How to be Good" This book made me sad. It was really, really depressing. In fact, so much that it actually put me in a bad mood while I was reading it. Don't get me wrong; there were flashes of humor, clever writing, and certainly it begs a lot of introspection. But it was a real downer. None of the hope of "About a Boy", and although I haven't read "High Fidelity", I've seen that movie, and I think that had hope too. So here's what I started writing after the first section for BBC last Saturday: "How to be Good" isn't exactly a cheery book yet, is it, and frankly those in attendance were wondering if the notes on the cover ("Hilarious", "Such a zip to read", and "Breezily hilarious") were about this book or another. However, it also offered up quite a bit of fodder for discussion. For starters, we were very interested that it's a male author and this is from the female point of view, especially because of our knowledge of "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy". It's also interesting given the question she asks her son "do you think of me as the mummy or the daddy", and her perspective on being the primary breadwinner. None of us got "GoodNews", or his place, nor his healing powers. We also discussed giving to charity, and her views about her position as a doctor. I found this commentary so insightful that I was hooked from the bottom of the first page:I can describe myself as the kind of person who doesn't forget names, for example, because I have remembered names thousands of times and forgotten them only once or twice. But for the majority of people, marriage-ending conversations happen only once, if at all. If you choose to conduct yours on a mobile phone, in a Leeds car park, then you cannot really claim that it is unrepresentative, in the same way that Lee Harvey Oswald couldn't really claim that shooting presidents wasn't like him at all. Sometimes we have to be judged by our one-offs. (emphasis mine) A sentence I wish I had written, and maybe one of the ones those cover blurbs was referring to, is "I can now see, for the first time, just how many worms a can holds, and why it's not a good idea to open one under any circumstances." And then there's Katie's honesty, "My conversation with Molly has made it impossible for me not to think, even though not-thinking is currently my favorite mode of being." I totally get this -- when I'm upset, "not-thinking" is what I'd rather do any minute of the day. How is Hornby able to write a female character who thinks so similarly to the way I do? And then there's this. Honestly? It's just one of many reasons why we didn't have kids.And the other thing I think is that I have failed my daughter. Eight years old, and she's sad ... I didn't want that. When she was born I was certain I could prevent it, and I have been unable to, and even though I see that the task I set myself was unrealistic and unachievable, it doesn't make any difference: I have still participated in the creation of yet another confused and fearful human being. Here's something I thought interesting, at the top of 221, when David and GoodNews are working on "reversal", and "GoodNews says excitedly, 'That's what we're doing! Building an ideal world in our own home!' An ideal world in my own home ... I'm not yet sure why the prospect appalls me quite so much..." I know why it bothers her so much! Because GoodNews is calling their home "ours"! Last, I found this ... well, thought-provoking: When I look at my sins (and if I think they're sins, then they are sins), I can see the appeal of born-again Christianity. I suspect that it's not the Christianity that is so alluring; it's the rebirth. Because who wouldn't wish to start all over again? In thinking through my final thoughts on this book, and my preference for hope in books, I would have been happy with the ending of this book if it had ended one sentence earlier. That is, I'd have removed the last sentence before publishing it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Amy Wilder

    Really intimate first person novel about a woman whose husband suddenly stops being snarky and facetious and becomes really sincere and loving. Basically I completely sympathized with her feeling that this person, while arguably much NICER than her husband, was basically NOT her husband any more, and was also pretty annoying. It's a great humorous approach to the same kind of material about morality that Jonathan Franzen explores in Freedom. Only, you know, funny and enjoyable rather than...Great Really intimate first person novel about a woman whose husband suddenly stops being snarky and facetious and becomes really sincere and loving. Basically I completely sympathized with her feeling that this person, while arguably much NICER than her husband, was basically NOT her husband any more, and was also pretty annoying. It's a great humorous approach to the same kind of material about morality that Jonathan Franzen explores in Freedom. Only, you know, funny and enjoyable rather than...Great American Novel. This is Hornby in a nutshell - he gets inside his characters heads, he creates wholly believable absurdity, and he gets under your skin while doing it. I read this in a day. Here is how this day went: I was staying at my family's summer house with my mother and niece and nephews. I woke up late, came downstairs and made a cup of coffee. My mother had taken the whole gang to a pancake breakfast so I sat on the deck and sipped my coffee while working on a crossword puzzle. When my mother returned, she brought me pancakes and a copy of how to be good from the church bazaar. I declared that I saw no reason to leave my deck chair for the rest of the day. Eventually I did get up for the bathroom and a change of clothes (pajamas are rather hot on a summer day) but I essentially stuck to my pledge. Engaging in sloth while reading about how our human weakness makes us, well, human was a lovely way to spend a vacation day and I recommend it highly. I suppose I could have liked this book more except I really wanted her to fall back in love with her husband and she just didn't. Things got better but...it was a little too real, I guess you could say. I can't fault the book for that, really, but I do favor an escapist book when I'm on vacation.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    I really need to see the movie An Education. Nick Hornby was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, and the critics thought he did a pretty fine job. I also heard that his YA novel, Slam was fine. I'd like to see Hornby doing a fine job because I've pretty much given up on him. I loved Fever Pitch; it is part of my personal mythology (I am an Arsenal fan, and it is very nearly a bible to Gooners). I also loved High Fidelity: slacker, music loving greatness. But since that brace of exce I really need to see the movie An Education. Nick Hornby was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, and the critics thought he did a pretty fine job. I also heard that his YA novel, Slam was fine. I'd like to see Hornby doing a fine job because I've pretty much given up on him. I loved Fever Pitch; it is part of my personal mythology (I am an Arsenal fan, and it is very nearly a bible to Gooners). I also loved High Fidelity: slacker, music loving greatness. But since that brace of excellence, Hornby has been on a poor run of form. His lowest point, for me, is How to Be Good. I am not usually one to be too critical of derivative works, believing as I do that the bulk of writing is derivative of something, but what I can't stand is an author who derives material from himself. Everything he does here is something he's done better somewhere else. He did the miserable bastard and music appreciation better in High Fidelity, where he also did relationships better. He did middle aged, male redemption better, though not much better, in About a Boy. And he wrote much, much better in Fever Pitch even if it was his first book. For a man who loves to joke with plenty of bitterness that he'll never win the Booker Prize, he sure produces plenty of drivel (come to think of it, maybe he'll win the Booker Prize anyway. Drivel seems to work). I'm probably not being fair, but I've really loved Hornby's work, and I want to love it again. It's sorta like being an Arsenal fan right now. I love Wenger and what he brought to the club, but another transfer window has past and we've still got Almunia in net and Wenger's talking up the same old crap: "youth," "belief," "patience." Fuck all that. I want a trophy this season. And I want Nick Hornby to get back to "being good" himself, not just writing about some wanker and his experiment with the homeless.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Scott Rhee

    Nick Hornby tackles suburbia, white liberalism, marriage, and life according to the Gospels in a secular world in his excellent book "How to Be Good". While it's been a few years since I read this, the book resonated with me. I'm pretty sure, at the time, I was re-evaluating my status as a devout Christian, and the question of how to be good in a world that, occasionally, favored the bad was foremost on my mind. When I read this I had just entered my 30s, and my 20s were rough. I had spent a lot Nick Hornby tackles suburbia, white liberalism, marriage, and life according to the Gospels in a secular world in his excellent book "How to Be Good". While it's been a few years since I read this, the book resonated with me. I'm pretty sure, at the time, I was re-evaluating my status as a devout Christian, and the question of how to be good in a world that, occasionally, favored the bad was foremost on my mind. When I read this I had just entered my 30s, and my 20s were rough. I had spent a lot of my 20s getting drunk, going to strip clubs and raves, trying (unsuccessfully) to have one-night stands, and taking pleasure in pissing off friends and family. I was, not to put too fine a point on it, an asshole. It was right around this time, too, that I reconnected with some friends who invited me to a Bible study. Unlike many Christians, these guys weren't judgmental, boorish, or arrogant about their Christianity. They were pretty open and honest about it, and they knew the kind of lifestyle I was leading. They didn't seem to care. Long story short: I became a Christian. I've had my ups and downs (I'm currently in a "down" phase), but I've always tried to live by Christ's Golden Rule. Hornby encapsulates a 21st-century philosophical and existential dilemma: How can we be good when so many things around us are tempting us to be bad?

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Well, this book proves that I can hate a book solely because of the protagonist. I'm disappointed because this was my first time reading a book by Nick Hornby and I wasn't impressed with the book or the writing. The plot focuses on a woman called Katie who is unhappy with her life. Then her husband goes through a radical change and becomes " really good". Its not a bad premise for a plot but there was nothing extraordinary or original about the book's execution. Katie is absolutely unbearable. S Well, this book proves that I can hate a book solely because of the protagonist. I'm disappointed because this was my first time reading a book by Nick Hornby and I wasn't impressed with the book or the writing. The plot focuses on a woman called Katie who is unhappy with her life. Then her husband goes through a radical change and becomes " really good". Its not a bad premise for a plot but there was nothing extraordinary or original about the book's execution. Katie is absolutely unbearable. She is a horrible mother, a crappy wife and a despicable person. All she does is judge people 24/7 and she also blames all her problems on other people. The most despicable thing she did was tell her 8 year old daughter (8 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER!!!!) that they wouldn't be getting a divorce, if she was good. I hated listening to her inner monologue and the conversations she had with other people. She kept referring to herself as a "good person" but trust me, she wasn't. The whole magical healing hands thing didn't appeal to me. I don't believe that someone can heal you with hot magical hands. David's personality change was insufferable. He went from being aggressive and annoying to preachy and annoying and I don't know which one I preferred because they were both intolerable. I disliked ALL of the characters (probably because of the way Katie described them). There was nothing good about this novel. It posed a good question: "how would you react if your husband (etc.) became 'too good'?" but I believe that Katie was the wrong type of wife to feature in this novel. The book was basically just Katie complaining and it was so depressing! The writing was meh, it didn't impress me. And I won't even get started about that horrible closing sentence!!!!! The cover said the book was hilarious, sophisticated, compulsive, very funny, very clever, witty, brilliant and marvellous but it was none of these things. In fact, it was the opposite. I would not recommend this book to anyone and I won't be in a hurry to read another book by Nick Hornby.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jillian

    I loved this book, even though I hated the beginning and I didn't really like the ending either. At first I thought it was a book about nasty people, divorce and affairs, and I'm really tired of those themes. It turns out it was about much more. I don't care that Hornby is a man writing from a female protagonist's POV, since he did it so well. I love humor about manners, morals and hypocrisy, and this is was what the book is about. So many people found this book depressing, but I didn't. I found I loved this book, even though I hated the beginning and I didn't really like the ending either. At first I thought it was a book about nasty people, divorce and affairs, and I'm really tired of those themes. It turns out it was about much more. I don't care that Hornby is a man writing from a female protagonist's POV, since he did it so well. I love humor about manners, morals and hypocrisy, and this is was what the book is about. So many people found this book depressing, but I didn't. I found it realistic, human and honest. I read about it in "Stuff White People Like," and although the SWPL author may have been making fun of it, I really liked it. Maybe because I'm white, or guilt-ridden, or relate to the characters, but I liked it. The ending doesn't wrap things up with a bow, but maybe the lesson is that people should start thinking about the small things in life, that lead to the big things, before it's all over. Who knows? I'm just trying to be good, like everyone else;)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    This is the first Hornby book I have read and he did not disappoint. I found it fun and truly original. Katie, the main character, and her quirky, confused thoughts are very entertaining. It makes you realize how our minds can go crazy sometimes specially when put in odd circumstances. This story is somewhat ridiculous but it also presents very serious issues on family and relationships. It speaks a lot about love and what it really means and gives importance to marriage and commitment. In a ver This is the first Hornby book I have read and he did not disappoint. I found it fun and truly original. Katie, the main character, and her quirky, confused thoughts are very entertaining. It makes you realize how our minds can go crazy sometimes specially when put in odd circumstances. This story is somewhat ridiculous but it also presents very serious issues on family and relationships. It speaks a lot about love and what it really means and gives importance to marriage and commitment. In a very humurous way, this book brings up the issue of charity and its evil side -- how doing good for other people can go wrong and cause hate instead of love. I probably will not read this book again but it was definitely enjoyable and smart. I'm looking forward to reading more from Nick Hornby.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Adrianne Mathiowetz

    Well-written, compelling, blah blah blah. I'm sick of books about affairs and divorce.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I bought this book maybe 6 years ago, after reading and loving High Fidelity and About a Boy. I read 100 pages or so, and put it down. A friend recently said she loved it, so I went back to give it another shot. It is, after all, about moral ambiguity and the search for a good life. That has always been one of my favorite topics. Once I got back into it, though, I remembered the things I disliked about it in the first place, namely: 1. I don't like any of the characters, major or minor, and I wo I bought this book maybe 6 years ago, after reading and loving High Fidelity and About a Boy. I read 100 pages or so, and put it down. A friend recently said she loved it, so I went back to give it another shot. It is, after all, about moral ambiguity and the search for a good life. That has always been one of my favorite topics. Once I got back into it, though, I remembered the things I disliked about it in the first place, namely: 1. I don't like any of the characters, major or minor, and I would not want to spend any time with any of them. 2. The major development in the story seems false and unrealistic to me. 3. The main character's search for morality is really just an attempt to look like a good person to the people around her. There are some funny parts, but the highlight of the story for me was a cameo by a character from High Fidelity. In other words, it would have been much more enjoyable if I had simply read that again.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kaya

    4.5 stars “The plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don't need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone.” This book is drastically different from Hornby’s other works. There is still dark humor, but family dilemma and midlife crisis hold the center of the plot. Honestly, this could be even my favorite book by Hornby because of the issues that it deals with. The author wants to tell us nothing is black and white a 4.5 stars “The plain state of being human is dramatic enough for anyone; you don't need to be a heroin addict or a performance poet to experience extremity. You just have to love someone.” This book is drastically different from Hornby’s other works. There is still dark humor, but family dilemma and midlife crisis hold the center of the plot. Honestly, this could be even my favorite book by Hornby because of the issues that it deals with. The author wants to tell us nothing is black and white and to be careful what we wish for, because its fulfillment won’t necessarily make us happy. The protagonist is Katie, a 40ish medical practitioner, living with her constantly angry husband David and two kids in a London suburb. She’s unhappy with her marriage, and as a consequence is having an affair. The book starts off with her calling David to tell him she wants a divorce. He refuses to accept that, but Katie is just as confused about her own decision. The main plot deals with the question what to do when your spouse, suddenly goes from spouting poison everywhere to someone who wants to do nothing but good deeds – and irritates you even more than before because of that change. Our narrator remains on the sidelines with a lot of sarcastic comments and tries to undermine all of his good intentions. The main characters are your normal everyday family. The book is clever and points out to all those little problems that liberals have to face. Of course, I felt provoked at times, since I am a set-in-stone liberal, but in a good way. The author asks the hard questions - what happens when you try to solve the problems in the way utopian societies do or what if you try to solve all the big problems but in a small way. Hornby, as always, has a great sense of humor and his writing seems effortless. This is perhaps he’s most realistic novel till date. While it starts out as a story about failing marriage, it becomes much deeper and personal with presenting some serious issues of family and relationships. It speaks a lot about love and how it develops (or gets smothered) by marriage and commitment. In a very humorous way, this book brings up the issue of charity and how doing good for other people can go wrong and cause tension, This is Hornby in a nutshell - he gets inside his characters’ heads, then creates a believable absurdity, and gets under your skin while doing it. I didn't like the ending though. Katie realizes that she needs to be more careful about what she wishes for. Her lack of security with herself and confidence is the main source of her unhappiness. Throughout the book, she carries a lot of guilt and she doesn’t really look like someone who really wants to find a light at the end of the tunnel. “I don't believe in Heaven or anything. But I want to be the kind of person that qualifies for entry anyway.” She always wants a better future, but she’s never brave enough to make crucial steps. “It is the act of reading itself that I miss, the opportunity to retreat further and further from the world until I have found some space, some air that isn't stale, that hasn't been breathed by my family a thousand times already.” She feels trapped, not only inside her family, but also inside her own skin and has no idea how to solve her problems. While having no moral support, she has no one to turned to to talk about it and lonelines is pushing her even more into a shell. She has a lot of burden on her shoulders and fights the wish to run away, because she’s petrified of being alone. “It was as if I were powerless to resist the temptation; my senses were overcome. I could hear the emptiness, and taste the silence, and smell the solitude, and I wanted it more than I have ever wanted anything before.” One moment, she desires the mentioned solitude, but in the next moment, she almost has a panic attack and she’d rather stay in an unhappy marriage with an unhealthy atmosphere than to make a better home for her children and herself. It’s interesting to read about her frustration because the behavior of her children is worsened by the constant conflicts between her and her husband. Katie and David have a horrible marriage. There is no respect, no affection, communication is getting worse day after day, and they can’t even talk for two minutes without dropping venom on each other. With constant passive aggression, I don’t know how they still manage to sleep in the same bed night after night. Habit is a bitch. “So now what? What happens when words fail us?” Even when they try really hard to be honest with each other, it turns into a depressing moment. “I've developed contours for his elbows and knees and bum, and nobody else quite fits into me in quite the same way.” Here, Katie describes their sex life. It’s the only thing that genuinely works in their marriage.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Abhinav

    Okay, I can probably guess why this book is considered one of Nick Hornby's lesser works by fans of the author & yet it found a place on the Man Booker Prize longlist. Speaking for myself, I pick up a Hornby novel primarily for the laughs. Besides that, he gives you those warm, fuzzy moments & some observations about humankind in general that are worth their weight in gold. But do I go in expecting endless self-introspection & whining? Not really. The protagonist of 'How To Be Good' is Katie Carr Okay, I can probably guess why this book is considered one of Nick Hornby's lesser works by fans of the author & yet it found a place on the Man Booker Prize longlist. Speaking for myself, I pick up a Hornby novel primarily for the laughs. Besides that, he gives you those warm, fuzzy moments & some observations about humankind in general that are worth their weight in gold. But do I go in expecting endless self-introspection & whining? Not really. The protagonist of 'How To Be Good' is Katie Carr, a medical practitioner living with her husband David & her two kids in a London suburb. She is unhappy with her marriage, she is having an affair & has just called David to tell him that she wants a divorce. David refuses to accept that, but Katie is just as confused about her own decision. She thinks she's a good person & so she believes her husband should be one too instead of being the angriest, cynical & most sarcastic man in Holloway. Then one day, David meets faith healer DJ GoodNews who cures his bad back and out of the blue, David becomes a good person - one who cares about his wife, his children & everything that's wrong with the world out there, with GoodNews as mentor. And then Katie realises that one needs to be careful about what one wishes for - after all, charity begins at home... Talking about what I liked about this book, the men win the arguments here. Okay okay, I'm not being anti-feminist here but one gotta see the funny side of it. The plot is inconsistent in its pace, sometimes gliding along while at times just not going anywhere, which brings me to the excessive self-introspection bit I wrote about earlier. It seems like Hornby is trying too hard to be different, after having written two books that are essentially coming-of-age stories. Hornby has this gift of creating impossible situations & then effortlessly finding his way out of it, but it seems he dwells upon these situations longer than necessary, leaving a bittersweet aftertaste. Still, there is no dearth of genuine laughs in this book nor is there anything lacking in terms of characterisation. This is perhaps Hornby's most realistic novel till date, for one can recognise a bit of oneself & people they know in each of the characters one encounters. So that's 3 stars for 'How To Be Good' by Nick Hornby. It certainly isn't one of Hornby's best, but it's just good enough to merit a read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Anna (Bananas)

    Completely annoying MCs. I'm surprised I made it through. Disappointed because I like the author.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kathi

    This book embodies the term "First-world problems". While it raises some interesting questions, and supplies ultimately inadequate answers to them, this is definitely a book which could only be written by someone from a privileged perspective. Katie is a thoroughly modern woman. She supports her nuclear family as a physician. Her husband, David, is a stay-at-home companion who cooks and tends the kids and half-heartedly writes. He is cranky and angry (a familiar state for many men in today's mar This book embodies the term "First-world problems". While it raises some interesting questions, and supplies ultimately inadequate answers to them, this is definitely a book which could only be written by someone from a privileged perspective. Katie is a thoroughly modern woman. She supports her nuclear family as a physician. Her husband, David, is a stay-at-home companion who cooks and tends the kids and half-heartedly writes. He is cranky and angry (a familiar state for many men in today's marriages) and Katie finds herself unhappy enough to wind up in bed with another man. After Katie asks for a divorce, David refuses and makes a sudden about-face, becoming an understanding, kind, thoughtful man overnight. He challenges the entire family to not just give lip-service to their progressive philosophy but to actually walk the walk, by giving away some of their possessions, offering their home as shelter to homeless waifs, and encouraging the family to right their past wrongs. I strongly identify with Katie's dilemma. There is no lonelier place to be than trapped in a stale marriage with someone you no longer have anything in common with. Yet, when David attempts to become the sort of husband all women claim to want, Katie finds it irritating and annoying. I feel her. I would react the same way. And when David's journey toward goodness becomes stifling and sanctimonious, Katie's increasingly desperate and ineffectual attempts to bring David back to his old self backfire in often hilarious and always realistic ways. Nick Hornby has created a fully realized picture of middle-class morality and hypocrisy which forces the reader to see how far we are from living our ideals.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Norman Revill

    Ok, so Hornby's a Gooner and his taste in music is not exactly mine, but he sure can write. Why do we read? To prove we are not alone? A never-ending attempt to understand the human condition? A quest for like minds? Search me. All of these and a lot more besides I would say. As with a lot of the novels I read, my wife saw this in a charity shop on a weekend away and bought it for 20p on a Saturday morning. By Sunday lunchtime I'd read it and told her she should read it too and then pass it on t Ok, so Hornby's a Gooner and his taste in music is not exactly mine, but he sure can write. Why do we read? To prove we are not alone? A never-ending attempt to understand the human condition? A quest for like minds? Search me. All of these and a lot more besides I would say. As with a lot of the novels I read, my wife saw this in a charity shop on a weekend away and bought it for 20p on a Saturday morning. By Sunday lunchtime I'd read it and told her she should read it too and then pass it on to our daughter, who lives on the Archway Road. My Islingtonian mate Butch would love this too, so he's also in the queue. Yes, it's a North London novel, like most of Hornby's early work, so I do feel that he's writing about my world, but it's also clever, insightful, damn funny and a very original premise for a writer. It's also very brave for a man to write as a woman in the first tense and Hornby brings it off superbly. So why do we do what we do? Do we ever lead a truly 'good' life? How important is it to try? Who gives a toss anyway? And how do we continue to cope as we get older? This witty tome probably raises more questions than it answers, but I liked Katie Carr and sympathised with her as her self-obsessed husband sets off on his voyage of discovery and her children inevitably take sides in the mayhem that ensues. 'DJ GoodNews' is a clever device, as the character who introduces the dilemma of living the good life and the fine lines it inevitably presents between naivety, practicality and living any kind of life at all. Hornby is a wise, witty and insightful man; a wonderful writer and someone who can make you laugh and make you think, even if he is a Gooner. Not bad for 20p.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    Whilst I admit that there are some shrewdly observed elements of a fractured relationship (unfortunately writing from experience), this is not a pleasant read at all. It begins as it means to go on... and on... and on... I had enough of a struggle making sense of my own disaster without looking on in Peeping Tom fashion at someone else's

  27. 4 out of 5

    john Adams

    How to be Good by Nick Hornby I picked up this book as part of my “I am going to read people who aren't dead” series. I can see Hornby's appeal. He is a good writer. And if I were the kind of kid who was to wear really tight black jeans, over-sized white tee-shirts, and knit caps with brims and spend my time riding my one gear bike through the mission looking for cheap Mexican food, Hornby would be my man. He epitomizes “Gen Y” (God I love those “Gen” labels). If you are apathetic, directionless, How to be Good by Nick Hornby I picked up this book as part of my “I am going to read people who aren't dead” series. I can see Hornby's appeal. He is a good writer. And if I were the kind of kid who was to wear really tight black jeans, over-sized white tee-shirts, and knit caps with brims and spend my time riding my one gear bike through the mission looking for cheap Mexican food, Hornby would be my man. He epitomizes “Gen Y” (God I love those “Gen” labels). If you are apathetic, directionless, like to analyze your emotions until they are beaten to ground, and struggling with the fact that secular humanism means death (and therefore to a certain degree life) are pointless, then this is a book for you. It is about some upper middle class British wankers. They are horrible. He is a columnist who is the “angriest man in London” and she is a doctor who cheats on him. For the first third of the book they treat each other and their kids like shit (by page 100 I almost gave up on the book in disgust). Then the husband literally meets the GoodNews (a “Gen-whatever-is-after-Y) kid who has Jesus like healing hands. Through GoodNews the husband has a spiritual conversion. The story is the first person account of the wife's affair and then reaction to her husband's conversion and finally her own “realistic” version of the same conversion. Like I said, Hornby isn't a bad writer and there are certain truths of his criticism of secular humanism and the boredom that is everyday life. That's what kept me reading. And the husband is an interesting character. For example, he and GoodNews figure that on their rich ass street that there are at least a dozen houses with spare bedrooms that just aren't being used. After figuring that out, they plot to fill each of those bedrooms with a homeless kid (their plot to be good). The book does a good job of making this successful for some kids and a total failure for others. In addition, I can't argue with the characters. It's a good idea and there is really nothing keeping people from doing something like that other than themselves. The wife/narrator becomes the voice of “reason.” She argues that they need their houses and consumer goods to take care of themselves first—they must conqueror their boredom and the difficulty that is life in general. Like I said very Gen-Y. My biggest criticism of the book and the reason it gets two rather than three stars is that the narrator doesn't sound like an authentic woman. I paraphrase and exaggerate but at one point she winds up summing up her life something like this: “God, all I need out of life is a big dick, a doughnut, the ability to evacuate my bowels, and bunch of video games to keep me occupied.” I can see a woman feeling and saying this, but I couldn't imagine a married woman with kids summing up her entire existence as such. That's the sense the narrator espouses and I feel it to be a very masculine mid-life crisis sentiment rather than a feminine. Its my sense of the character and I feel it lacks authenticity. In sum, Hornby is a good writer and this is a book with interesting points. And at the same time his spiritualism is idiotic and his narrator is lacking. I can image another book and topic, such High Fidelity, being executed much better. I could say I admire his bravery to write a woman and take on a social topic, but I don't really. He winds up embodying the very things he is critiquing. (I know it's a bit harsh of a review, but that's the blow back you get for preaching at me poorly.)

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    One of the "blurbs" on the cover of my library copy this book uses a one word review: "hilarious". This is very misleading. "How to Be Good" is an excellent read, confronts the many changes in a modern marriage where husband and wife are unsure of the ground of the marriage. There is humor. There are some very funny moments but this is not pure comedy. Not in my eyes. It's a portrait of modern ennui and angst mixed together and forming a very messy stew. Katie, the wife, is a doctor, and one of One of the "blurbs" on the cover of my library copy this book uses a one word review: "hilarious". This is very misleading. "How to Be Good" is an excellent read, confronts the many changes in a modern marriage where husband and wife are unsure of the ground of the marriage. There is humor. There are some very funny moments but this is not pure comedy. Not in my eyes. It's a portrait of modern ennui and angst mixed together and forming a very messy stew. Katie, the wife, is a doctor, and one of her consistent refrains as she assesses her life and the lives of those around her is that she is a doctor and does good things for people every day. But she's struggling to believe it. Her husband, David, has been a negative, argumentative, non-working presence for several years. And there are 2 children. Can she leave? Should she leave? Can David become the loving husband she thinks she remembers? Oh my! And this is only the very beginning. Then there are THE CHANGES!! the GOOD things that happen. Well this is where one becomes happy you aren't Katie or live in Hornby's imagination. It's funny and bleak and outrageous and true to somebody's life but thankfully not mine. Rating a strong 4 Recommended for those who enjoy domestic drama/dramedy/?comedy.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    I don't think it's a great sign when you put down a book after you've finished it and feel completely and utterly relieved that it's finally over. Forget about that final line and that fact that I didn't care enough (or am obviously not clever enough) to deduce any meaning from the sudden, jarring throat punch of a ending sentance. Nick Hornby in undeniably a brilliant writer and I have enjoyed many of his books. In this he shows many of those positive qualities in his wit, his intelligence, his I don't think it's a great sign when you put down a book after you've finished it and feel completely and utterly relieved that it's finally over. Forget about that final line and that fact that I didn't care enough (or am obviously not clever enough) to deduce any meaning from the sudden, jarring throat punch of a ending sentance. Nick Hornby in undeniably a brilliant writer and I have enjoyed many of his books. In this he shows many of those positive qualities in his wit, his intelligence, his deft observations, his wonderfully barmy (and aptly named in this case, Brian) cameo characters and his willingness to make his characters, especially his antagonists, wholly unlikable. Yes, he shows off all these aspects, but it doesn't change that as a whole I just didn't really like this book. In fact, in this particular instance, I'm hard pressed to find any of the parts I did enjoy. A shame, but doesn't change the fact the Hornby has written many books I have enjoyed, and I will continue to read more. I just hope this is anomaly!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Zak Patten

    Nick Hornby--WTF? How to Be Good marks a low point for one of the very best writers working today. Boring, shallow, and stupid. The main characters are irritating beyond belief.

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