After you’ve sated yourself on the literary richness that is the Brooklyn Book Festival, you should really top of your day by attending the launch celebration for Kingsley Amis’ Girl, 20 and One Fat Englishman at NYC’s McNally Jackson Books. Discussing Amis and these books will be NYRB Classics editor, Edwin Frank, Katie Roiphe, author of In Praise of Messy Lives, Lucas Wittman, literary editor of The Daily Beast, Christian Lorentzen, editor at the London Review of Books, and Michael Moynihan, reporter at Newsweek/The Daily Beast.
Need we mention that alcohol will be served? No. We didn’t think so.
The party and discussion begins at 6PM. Visit the event page here for more info.
[Dixon] didn’t like having to breakfast so early. There was something about Miss Cutler’s cornflakes, her pallid fried eggs or bright red bacon, her explosive toast, her diuretic coffee which, much better than bearable at nine o’clock, his usual breakfast-time, seemed at eight-fifteen to summon from all the recesses of his frame every lingering vestige of crapulent headache, every relic of past nauseas, every echo of noises in the head.
—Kingsely Amis, Lucky Jim
A reader in Tuscon, Arizona, sent in this photo along with his favorite line from Lucky Jim:
He disliked this girl and her boy-friend so much that he couldn’t understand why they didn’t dislike each other.
"What’s it like in your country? We hear so many strange things of it which can’t be true. Not all of them."
"It’s beautiful, Hubert, which nobody believes who hasn’t seen it. And various, because it’s so extensive. Seven hundred miles from north to south, four hundred miles across in places, three times France. In the north-east in winter, everything freezes solid for three months; in the south, there are palm trees and lions and swamps and alligators…"
Sound familiar? The place described is New England, but not the one you know. Ready for a world where the Reformation never happened, electricity is considered “appallingly dangerous” in 1976, and a young choir boy is facing a hair-raising surgery? Kingsley Amis’ alternate history The Alteration is out now, a vivid take on a repressive religious society that Phillip K. Dick called “ One of the best- possibly the best- alternate-worlds novels in existence.”
Kingsley Amis's very funny and very scary ghost story, The Green Man, has just been released. The cover features an excellent depiction of the Green Man by Eric Hanson, following in the footsteps of many wild cover variations, including the above, and this one too.
Striking a different tone altogether is the soft-core 1970s Panther edition. Thanks to Ryan Britt’s Tor.com review (“like Fawlty Towers Plus Sex and Ghosts”) of the book for bringing this one to our attention.
On Monday, May 6th at 7 PM, writers Lev Grossman, Nathaniel Adams, and Jen Vafidis will discuss Kingsley Amis’ newly reissued novels, the alternate history The Alteration and the ghost story The Green Man at the Half King. Co-sponsored with Vol. 1 Brooklyn.
Full details here.
Are you a rereader? What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
I don’t do much rereading anymore because I’ve been ill and feel that I’m running out of time. But recently I did reread all of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, and was pleased to find that he was almost as thoughtful as, say, Olivia Manning, although his snobbery sometimes grates. Also, I enjoyed Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis, all over again: the funniest novel I have ever read. Is there some Bulgarian equivalent, languishing untranslated? Probably not.
—Clive James, novelist, critic, poet and recent translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy, was in the The New York Times Book Review answering questions in their "By the Book" column. We’re thrilled he enjoyed rereading Lucky Jim, and will make it easier to return to Olivia Manning as we are publishing the second trilogy in the Fortunes of War series, The Levant Trilogy, in Spring 2014 (we published The Balkan Trilogy in 2010).
(illustration by Jillian Tamaki)
OH YES OH YES
And, for Anglophile eyes only, a bonus sentence from The Green Man that uses the terms “birds” (to mean women) and “steak-and-kidney pie.”
'Now then, I want you to stand up to Underhill and, uh…Put paid to him.'
'I can't tell you that, I'm afraid. Sorry to be a bore, but I'll have to leave the whole thing to you. I hope you make it.'
'Surely you know? Whether I will or not?'
The young man sighed, swallowed audibly and smoothed his fair hair. ‘No. I don’t. I only wish I did. People think I have foreknowledge, which is a useful thing for them to think in a way, but the whole idea’s nonsense logically unless you rule out free will, and I can’t do that. They were just trying to make me out to be grander than I could possibly be, for very nice motives a lot of the time.’
'No doubt. Anyway, I don't care for doing what you want. Your record doesn't impress me.'
'I dare say it doesn't, in your sense of impress. But all sorts of chaps have noticed that I can be very hard on those who don't behave as I feel they should. That ought to weigh with you.'
'It doesn't much, when I think of how hard you can be on people who couldn't possibly have done anything to offend you.'
'I know, children and such. But do stop talking like a sort of anti-parson, old man. It's nothing to do with offending or punishing or any of that father-figure stuff; it's purely and simply the run of the play. No malice in the world. Well, I think you'll take notice of what I've said when you turn it over in your mind afterwards.'
—A conversation between Maurice Allington, “drunk and seeing ghosts and half of my head”, and a young man, “about twenty-eight years old, with a squarish, clean-shaven, humorous, not very trustworthy face, unabundant eyebrows and eyelashes, and very good teeth,” aka the devil, from Kingsely Amis’s ghost story, The Green Man.
— Is there a contest for most English-y sounding English sentence written in the English language? Because we just found this, from The Green Man by Kingsley Amis
"Peter’s getting-up procedures were less taxing to the spirit than [his friends] Charlie’s or Malcolm’s but they were no less rigid. They had stopped being what you hurried heedlessly through before you did anything of interest and had turned into a major event of his day, with him very much on his own, which was right for an oldster’s day. Among such events it was by far the most strenuous performance. The section that really took it out of him was the actual donning of clothes, refined as this had been over the years, and its heaviest item was the opener, putting his socks on. At one time this had come after instead of before putting his underpants on, but he had noticed that that way round he kept tearing them with his toenails.
Those toenails had in themselves become a disproportion in his life. They tore the pants because they were sharp and jagged, and they had got like that because they had grown too long and broken off, and he had let them grow because these days cutting them was no joke at all. He could not do it in the house because there was no means of trapping the fragments and Muriel [his wife] would be bound to come across a couple, especially with her bare feet, and that was obviously to be avoided. After experimenting with a camp-stool in the garage and falling off it a good deal he had settled on a garden seat under the rather fine flowering cherry. This restricted him to the warmer months, the wearing of an overcoat being of course ruled out by the degree of bending involved. But at least he could let the parings fly free, and fly they bloody well did, especially the ones that came crunching off his big toes, which were massive enough and moved fast enough to have brought down a sparrow on the wing, though so far this had not occurred.”
—A description of daily dressing, and cutting toenails, from Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils, about a group of elderly couples living in Wales. This is from the point-of-view of Peter, elsewhere described as “a large, lumpish figure.”
Was it enough to hate stuff? The answer that began to emerge in the letters, which continued to amuse and comfort the two men as the years wore on, was that hatred and irritability could be an almost inexhaustible store of humor, liveliness, and insight. If you hated intensely enough, deliberately enough, with enough determination and discrimination, you just might end up with something new, unexpected, true to life.
Among all the two men’s accomplishments, Lucky Jim remains unique. Larkin, especially, would do much to make poetry of depressed and declining middle age (‘Life is first boredom, then fear/Whether or not we use it, it goes.’), and Amis’s later work is not insensible to the grotesquery of trying to live the rest of your life as if you were 25. Lucky Jim is their one document of youth, their youth. It is in a way as optimistic as it is angry. Jim’s rages are impotent rages, his small acts of vandalism useless and self-destructive – and yet he undertakes them in the belief that they are not meaningless, that the world he is disparaging can be changed. Lucky Jim is a weirdly hopeful book, written when the failures of the men whose sensibilities and lives it captured, as well as the successes, still lay very much in the future. In 1951 all these things were something to imagine and laugh at. Lucky Jim is a lucky book, snatched improbably from time, the product of a collaboration, both editorial and spiritual, that neither writer, once firmly established, could afford to attempt again.
—From Keith Gessen’s introduction to Lucky Jim, up at the New Statesman, about the germination of the book in Kingsley Amis’s friendship with Philip Larkin. Amis died seventeen years ago today, but we hope to keep his books alive by publishing ten of them over the next few years—Lucky Jim and The Old Devils are first, to be followed by The Green Man and The Alteration. And the great thing about Amis’s career is that there is a novel for every age (and mood).