Bedside Books III: Amis, Amis, Hitchens

Experience by Martin Amis  This high combination autobiography/biography is both a story of Kingsley Amis’s decline and death, and the story of Martin’s life during that period. The novels of father and son are the story of their lives and times cast in art, and Martin’s story here is his “real” life set in dramatic narrative with a cast of real characters as compelling as fictional ones, especially the etchings of his immediate family members, and the roles of various of Martin’s and Kingsley’s friends, which include Philip Larkin, Christopher Hitchens, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Saul Bellow and many other well-known names.

Memoirs by Kingsley Amis  I followed up by reading Kingsley’s autobiography, which gave me my first taste of his prose, which is a far cry from Martin’s. Kingsley’s nonfiction prose is arch by comparison, prone to personal mannerism, too concerned with class consciousness. It displays a patented “English” quality, almost a stereotype, though by all signs he was egalitarian (seen through his affection for American culture) and eager to puncture pomposity whenever he could. I gained a deeper insight into the Amis clan, and many of the people limned in Experience, plus a clutch of English writers who were new to me.

 

Unacknowledged Legislation by Christopher Hitchens

I put this book of literary criticism on the bedside pile again because during first reading a few years ago I was again overwhelmed by Hitchen’s range and brilliance. There is never a sign in his writing that he is out of his territory, that he is not writing from some uncanny absolute knowledge of his subject, whether it’s Kipling, Warhol, Bellow, Anthony Powell,  Vidal, Orwell, Fitzgerald, Patrick O’Brian, Isherwood, Auden, Tom Wolfe, Rushdie, Mencken, Isaiah Berlin, et al. He somehow personifies Blake’s “the road of excess leads to wisdom”––he seemingly can never do too much. His serious illness now must irritate him most because it interrupts his mighty creative flow, his need for intellectual engagement. See his website here, where he writes about his recent illness and other matters.

The War Against Cliché by Martin Amis  Will there be a book of letters between Amis and Hitchens? We can hope. This is a collection of Amis literary criticism (1971-2000), which displays his very close reading of texts especially for literary nuance and style. See his pearls on writers such as Updike, Bellow, Elmore Leonard, Mailer (early on a bit of innate distaste there, but by the early 90s, Martin fully realized his importance), Naipaul, Joyce, Nabokov, Roth and many others.

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