Literary Birthday: Martin Amis

In the time before the Internet, Martin Amis (born today in 1949) was a favored author of a certain type of cold-hearted literati. Novels like London Fields (1989) were scabrous, pitch-black satires of soulless urbanites that took no prisoners.

But Amis was almost more scathing as a critic. He once pronounced that “all writing is a campaign against cliche. Not just cliches of the pen but cliches of the mind and cliches of the heart,” which can be argued sets a high standard in a world where the publishing business was briefly kept afloat by sales of Fifty Shades of Grey. Amis’s opinions were so hotly felt that he and his friend Salman Rushdie once disagreed violently enough about the merits of Samuel Beckett that Rushdie asked Amis to step outside to resolve the matter.

Writer’s Desk: Say It Out Loud. Again.

The great and ever-acerbic Martin Amis has a new book out, Inside Story, which appears to be pretty juicy and part of that popular new sub-genre of quasi-nonfiction “novels”. (He also appears in the great new documentary The Meaning of Hitler which is showing in some festivals now and should be tracked down with all speed.)

Whether he’s expounding on tyrants or the cynical complexities of the London smart set, Amis delivers sharp prose that has reads as though it has been turned over on a lathe until every rough or unfinished particle has been removed. So if he has a bit of advice to provide, it is worth listening to. Here is something he offered at the Chicago Humanities Festival:

Saying the sentence, self-vocalizing it in your head until there’s nothing wrong with it.

If it does not sound right when you say it aloud, it probably will not read right on the page.

Department of Weekend Reading: August 29, 2014

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Department of Weekend Reading: March 28, 2014

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Department of Weekend Reading: March 21, 2014

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Quote of the Day: Martin Amis

 

Martin Amis, barbed-pen satirist of the modern era and boon companion of the late Christopher Hitchens (with whom he shared a sharp impatience with lazy thinking), has taken it on the chin from the press and the literati in his home country of England for years now. Hard to say why, perhaps it was that habit of speaking his mind. But in any case, when Amis decamped from London to Brooklyn to set up home there with his (American) wife, the sniping started all over again.

In The New Republic, Amis — whose newest novel, Lionel Asbo: State of England, comes out August 21 — has a few things to say on the cult of the author and the attribution of false statements:

Backed up by lavish misquotes together with satirical impersonations … the impression given was that I was leaving because of a vicious hatred of my native land and because I could no longer bear the well-aimed barbs of patriotic journalists.

“I wish I weren’t English”: Of all the fake tags affixed to my name, this is the one I greet with the deepest moan of inanition. I suggest that the remark—and its equivalent in any language or any alphabet—is unutterable by anyone whose IQ reaches double figures. “I wish I weren’t North Korean” might make a bit of sense, assuming the existence of a North Korean sufficiently well-informed and intrepid to give voice to it. Otherwise and elsewhere, the sentiment is inconceivably null. And to say it of England—the country of Dickens, George Eliot, Blake, Milton, and, yes, William Shakespeare—isn’t even perverse. It is merely whimsical.