March 16, 2007


Mauro Javier Cardenas

I'm going to guess he seeks input from his writer friends? From Saul Bellow when he was alive? From Barnes before he told Amis to eat paper?


"We've said too many times to count that we think Amis is a better essayist/critic than novelist…"

Don't forget memoirist, as "Experience" was quite fine. And "Money" forgave "Yellow Dog" in advance. Everyone shanks one sooner or later. You'd think by now he'd be allowed to live down his compound forename, Martin-son-of-Kingsley, and just go by Martin Amis. Of course I don't know that many Americans will ever let him live down the title "The Moronic Inferno".


I completely agree with you, J-man. Experience got some critical knocks which I thought were unfair. I agree with you - it's among his best.


I had hoped to get the next Bat Segundo podcast up this morning, but I woke up later than expected. (Of course, seeing as how I went to bed at 3 AM working on it, I can hardly be called a slacker. It should go up tonight or tomorrow.) Needless to say, Amis and I talked at length about how he deals with critics and personal rejection. And I think once you hear how he operates (and these unexpectedly candid words come near the end), you may understand why he would offer the above answer to Birnbaum.


"The Moronic Inferno" is a Bellow-ism, from Humbolt's Gift. I think he uses it when Charlie finds his beautiful Mercedes smashed to bits. Or it's from The Dean's December. At a certain point, the Bellows all flow together in the brain pan.



I know. I think it's "The Dean's December" because that's my favorite Bellow novel, but favorite or no, you're right about the entire Bellow catalog eventually sort of congealing somewhere in the head. Anyway, I meant that Amis used "The Moronic Inferno" as the title for a collection of his essays about the United States. Which of course you may already know. But I thought I'd clarify just in case. I thought it was funny, but I don't know about middle America. Of course how much of middle America reads Martin Amis? Reads Martin Amis *essay* collections? Hmm. We as a society probably aren't too offended, after all.

Martin Amis holds a special place in my heart because he was, or perhaps still is, just wild about video games, and so am I. So I've forever used him to rationalize my passion for what's often considered low-brow recreation, and that running in the same brain with some nebulous literary aspirations or at least the belief I have a literary mind-set.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."