Fever Pitch - too soon to pass judgment
So, Fever Pitch is now a Penguin Modern Classic. A memoir turned down by innumerable publishers (quite possibly including Penguin) and published by Gollancz in 1992, by the late Liz Knights if memory serves, now rubs shoulders with work by Bellow, Nabokov, Camus, Kesey, Joyce, Sartre, Freud et al on a list founded in 1961 by Tony Godwin and launched with The Great Gatsby.Surely, 20 years is far too soon to decide if anything is a classic, and Penguin editorial director Alexis Kirschbaum’s declaration that the book was chosen because it "struck a chord with the popular imagination" simply doesn’t cut the mustard. The same "popular imagination" has also embraced Kane and Abel, The Da Vinci Code and, most recently, Fifty Shades of Grey. Will they soon join Hornby on classics lists? In other media, it has embraced Britain’s Got Talent and Big Brother. Listeners to Classic FM seem to rank the latest Harry Potter score alongside a work by Beethoven or Bernstein.
Branding Fever Pitch a classic is on a par with the marketing of Katherine Jenkins as an “opera singer” – that is, it's entirely cynical. Or perhaps just another example of dumbing down. Not surprising, though, from a company that has just acquired a vast vanity publishing operation (for let's be honest, that's what ASI is).
Whether Fever Pitch changed football or the public’s perception of it is neither here nor there in this partiuclar discussion. Universality and longevity are surely the two prerequisites of classic status and both have yet to be proven. Hornby has written some terrific books which have given readers much pleasure and made him a lot of money - and he has given much back, notably via his Ministry of Stories. No one begrudges him his writerly success, but he might have been wiser to decline "modern classic" status, however flattering it seemed.
Like Obama's Nobel, another rush to judgment (though understandable in the euphoria of the moment), it may come to seem entirely inappropriate.