Comparing the lives of two protean geniuses and gleaning the lessons thereof.
Hornby considers together the lives of two of "My People—the people I have thought about a lot, over the years, the artists who have shaped me, inspired me, made me think about my own work." This exercise will interest a particular Venn diagram of readers. You don't have to be a fan of Prince, Dickens, and Hornby, but 2 out of 3 would help. Among the qualities that unite Hornby’s two heroes is that they had "no off switch," continuously pouring out work until their deaths, both at the same age, 58. Both had truncated, difficult childhoods; both hit a spectacular creative zenith in their 20s; both went to war with their publishers and damaged their reputations considerably by doing so. Hornby also takes on the idea, popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, that virtuosity requires 10,000 hours of practice, putting the focus instead on reading, listening, watching, and bringing himself into the picture, as he does from time to time. "I am closer to being Dickens than being Prince, although of course that's like saying I'm closer to Mars than to Saturn,” he writes. “But I suspect my degree of passion for books, music, TV and movies has never been ‘normal.’ ” In an interesting section on Prince's androgyny, Hornby points out that "Prince's sexuality came from the future”—i.e., now, when the notion of nonbinary gender is part of mainstream culture. Dickens' sexuality “came from the future” only in the sense that he went through a public shaming in the media when his relationship with an 18-year-old girl became public. Most importantly, writes Hornby, “Prince and Dickens tell me, every day, Not good enough. Not quick enough. Not enough. More, more, more. Think quicker, be more ambitious, be more imaginative."
No one else could have gotten a book like this published, but no one else could have pulled it off, either.