“You’ll find that marriage is a good short cut to the truth. No, not quite that. A way of doubling back to the truth. Another thing you’ll find is that the years of illusion aren’t those of adolescence, as the grown-ups try to tell us; they’re the ones immediately after it, say the middle twenties, the false maturity if you like, when you first get thoroughly embroiled in things and lose your head. Your age, by the way, Jim. That’s when you first realize that sex is important to other people besides yourself. A discovery like that can’t help knocking you off balance for a time.”
[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.
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)
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).
To celebrate the re-release of two books by iconic British author Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim and The Old Devils, New York Review of Books Classics and Vol. 1 Brooklyn hosted an evening at Housing Works dedicated to his life and work.
Rosie Schaap (New York Times Magazine “Drink” writer and author of the forthcoming book “Drinking With Men”), Parul Sehgal (Editor at the New York Times Book Review) and Maud Newton (Writer and critic) shared their thoughts on Mr. Amis. Brooklyn Gin kindly served gin and tonics.
Where we were last night. Thanks for the great pics Gabrielle. Thanks for the organization Vol. 1 Brooklyn. Thanks for the free gin Brooklyn Gin. And thanks for the laughs and excuse to drink Kingsley Amis.
To celebrate the re-release of two books by iconic British author Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim and The Old Devils, New York Review Books Classics and Vol. 1 Brooklyn present an evening dedicated to his life and work. Rosie Schaap (New York Times Magazine Drink writer and author of the forthcoming book Drinking With Men), Parul Sehgal (Editor at the New York Times Book Review) and Maud Newton (Writer and critic) will all share their thoughts on Mr. Amis. And since no celebration of the life and work of Mr. Amis is truly complete without cocktails, Brooklyn Gin will be on hand to serve gin and tonics.
October 11, 2012, 7 pm – 8:30 pm
Housingworks Bookstore Cafe
126 Crosby Street,
New York, NY
Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done so once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.
—Kingsley Amis is known as much for his drinking as his writing, in an article at Hyperallergic he is called “the great alco-bard of English letters.” And today we start our attempt to balance the scale and return Amis senior to his rightful place as one of the great 20th-century British novelists, with the publication of two of his best books: The first is of course Lucky Jim, his maiden work, a huge success (re-read annually by Joseph M. Schuster in The Millions), and often called the funniest book ever written (including in today’s B&N Review); and the second is The Old Devils, winner of the 1986 Booker Prize and considered by his son Martin to be his finest novel. The American Conservative has a good article on why Kingsley fell out of favor in the U.S. (quick hint: celebrity, politics, opinions, and a famous son), but if all you are interested in are the drinks, come Raise a Glass to Kingsley next Thursday at Housing Works Bookstore for an event hosted by Vol. 1 Brooklyn and have a glass of gin on us. Just try to avoid a hangover like Jim Dixon’s.
“And then of course there’s always vanity. You remember that Orwell said, when he was answering his own question, why I write, that his leading motive was the desire to be thought clever, to be talked about by people he had never met. I don’t think he was being arrogant, I think he was being very honest.”
—Kingsley Amis, on what motives him as a novelist.
“My father always claimed to be completely uninterested in posterity. I said, it doesn’t mean anything to you, whether you’re going to be read in 50 years’ time? And he said, it’ll be no fucking use to me, will it? I’ll be dead. But I think that was sort of bravado, I think it did matter to him. When I see a lot of young faces in the audience, it’s just sort of sinking in how important that is. Because you’re old enough now to identify them very strongly as being young—whereas before, of course they were young, because you were young. Now it’s not like that.”
We’ll be publishing a total of 10 books by Kingsley Amis in the next few years. The first two up are Lucky Jim and Old Devils, coming this September.
As we prepare to officially launch our Fall 2012 list we wanted to share our upcoming books. This is the first part of the season, and we’ll post the remainder later:
Growing Up Absurd by Paul Goodman: Paul Goodman was a sociologist, philosopher, poet, writer, educator, anarchist, and gay rights activist. He was one of the most influential thinkers in the second half of the 20th century, and helped inspire the student movements of the 1960s. Growing Up Absurd is his most famous and influential book on education, work, and simply growing up, and was a bestseller in its day.
Voltaire in Love by Nancy Mitford: In the hands of Nancy Mitford the story of the sixteen-year affair between Voltaire and Madame du Châtelet is more than a biography of the world-renowned philosophe and the ground-breaking female scientist: it is an engaging and fresh love story set in a moment of rapidly evolving history.
Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker: Based on the life of the notoriously hip and talented Bix Beiderbecke, this novel shows how jazz music overtook the life of a young man, who, unable to reconcile his music with his life, drives himself quickly to destruction.
Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker: Cassandra Edwards—gay, brilliant, nerve-wracked, miserable—is bent on destroying her twin sister’s wedding. How much of this is her rejection of conventional mores? Or is her own instability stopping her from accepting her sister’s new life?
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis: One of the most celebrated comic novels of all time, particularly known for its famed hangover scene. It is the story of Jim Dixon who seethingly endures the mediocrity of provincial, collegiate life, until he can take it no longer and lets forth one of the funniest, and ultimately successful, rebellions of all time.
The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis: A story of aging, resentment, enduring love, and friendship that won the Booker Prize in 1986. Martin Amis considers The Old Devils to be his father’s best work.
The Stammering Century by Gilbert Seldes: Before the United States was a global powerhouse, it was a hotbed of religious dissent and movements, whose practioners feared the wrath of God and bravely struck through a harsh landscape to help their distant neighbors find Salvation. Those interested in the foundation of contemporary America’s various faiths will finds the stories here.
The Other by Thomas Tryon: Following closely after the publication of Rosemary’s Baby, The Other was a huge financial and critical hit and a prime example of the birth of modern horror fiction. A scary tale of 13-year old twins, one good and the other very, very evil.
Basti by Intizar Husain: Set in the heart of India and Pakistan’s bloody, and today still resonant, Partition, Basti, similar to Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, shows how religious intolerance and nationalist politics can tear apart towns, friends, and families. An important novel considering Pakistan’s position in the world today.
Going to the Dogs by Erich Kästner: Berlin during the Weimar era was a time of artistic creation and financial ruin. The characters in Going to the Dogs spend their days hanging on to any job or money they can get, and their nights running riot in cabarets. All the while a political and human disaster is hanging over their heads.