Tag Archives: Kingsley Amis

117. ‘Visiting Mrs.Nabakov,’ Martin Amis

117. ‘Visiting Mrs.Nabakov,’ Martin Amis

Visiting Mrs.Nabakov,Martin Amis

Martin Amis is one of the most famous contemporary British authors, having been included in The Times newspaper’s list of the fifty greatest UK writers of the post-war period, (not to mention being the son of legendary author Kingsley Amis, making them one of the few parent/sibling writing partnerships I can think of).

I had read one of his novels before, (the brilliantly bizarre ‘London Fields‘), but since this time last year I was on an essay-reading binge, it made sense to read this selection which I had picked up and had signed at last year’s Hay Festival, (which is on right now, if you happen to be anywhere near the England/Wales border). Here are my favourite bits.


On the mind-boggling maths behind chess:

“Recently Kasparov beat ten computers simultaneously, blindfolded. How flattering for the species. There are over 288 billion possibilities through the fourth move…yet the mark of a good chess player is not how many moves he considers but how few…”


Don’t tell anyone, but this is just Tippex on a screen… Photo from Chess Maniac used courtesy of Creative Commons license.

On Robocop actor Peter Weller:

“It’s like being in a room, or a trailer, with about fifty different people. Simon Schama‘s new study of the French Revolution is cracked open on the table; so is Teach Yourself French; so is Teach Yourself Italian. He puts down his trumpet, looks up from the stack of inspirational videos…and shouts out of the window for more classical CDs…He hums with vigour. I would too, I suppose, if I got up at three and ran 16 miles every morning…”

Photo from Flixist, used courtesy of Creative Commons.

Photo from Flixist, used courtesy of Creative Commons.


Next, Paul Theroux’s greeting to Salman Rushdie at the funeral of Bruce Chatwin:

“‘Salman,’ called out Paul Theroux, boyishly. ‘Next week we’ll be back here for you!'”…


A conversation with Salman Rushdie on hearing that the latter had taken part in a celebrity writer’s football match:

“‘How did you do?’ I expected the usual kind of comedy (sprained ankle, heart attack, incompetence, disgrace). But I was given another kind of comedy, out of left field.

He said, ‘I, uh, scored a hat-trick, actually.’

‘You’re kidding. I suppose you just stuck your leg out. You scrambled them home.’

‘Goal number one was a first-time hip-high volley from twenty yards out. For the second, I beat two men at the edge of the box and curled the ball into the top corner with the outside of my left foot.’

‘And the third goal, Salman? A tap-in. A fluke.’

‘No. The thrid goal was a power header‘…

(I didn’t think I could love Salman Rushdie any more than I do. To be proven wrong is one of the reasons I read!)

Salman Rushdie, photo courtesy of, used under Creative Commons License

Salman Rushdie, photo courtesy of, used under Creative Commons License


And finally, an incredibly descriptive (offensive?) portrait of American writer Nicholson Baker:

“He is, to be sure, fabulously and pointlessly tall…”



Posted by on June 2, 2014 in BOOKS


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70. ‘Hitch 22,’ Christopher Hitchens…

70. ‘Hitch 22,’ Christopher Hitchens…

Hitch 22,’ Christopher Hitchens

I only really knew Hitchens as one of the leading ‘New Atheists‘ best exemplified by this youtube clip of himself, cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, neuroscientist Sam Harris and evolutionary biologist (and believer-baiter) Richard Dawkins sitting around, drinking and discussing the dangers of religion. Since I read my first Sam Harris last month, saw a talk by the fascinating philosopher-scientist Dennett at Hay last week, and recently blogged on Dawkins being in my Top 10 of authors, it made sense to finally post a review of pretty much the first book I read when I got to Guatemala six months ago, Hitchens‘ autobiography, where I discovered that he is as much known for his political leanings as his religious ones.

Early on in this collection of uneven reflections, ‘Hitch’ gives us this quote:

“‘Until you have done something for humanity,’ said the great American educator Horace Mann, ‘you should be ashamed to die.’ Well, how is one to stand that test?…”

But what a great test to measure yourself by!

The book contains a plethora (one of my favourite words, incidentally), of interesting ideas and trivia, from linguistics:

“The Maltese tongue is a dialect version of the Arabic spoken in the Maghreb…If you happen to attend a Maltese Catholic church during Mass, you will see the priest raising the Communion Host and calling on ‘Allah,’ because this after all is the local word for ‘god’…”

to the Oxbridge divide:

“‘At least Oxford spies for us,’ as one portly academic once put it to me,’while Cambridge seems to prefer to spy for the other side’…”

A typically vivid metaphor on visiting Cuba to see (and soon become disillusioned by) the revolutionary spirit there:

“Once you have been told that you can’t leave a place, its attractions may be many but its charm will instantly be void. A cat may stay contentedly in one spot for hours at a time, but detain it in that spot by grasping its tail and it will try to tear out its own tail at the roots…”


Describing his early political education, and the understatement inherent in the catchphrase of the ”other half,’ (which Hitch would be pleased to know is now represented by the more accurate 99%):

“…some of the visiting preachers on Sundays were unpolished ministers from tough working-class parishes, who gave us some idea how the other half (actually very much more than half) lived…”

On the 1968 uprisings in France:

“I shall never forget how the workers at the Berliet factory rearranged the big letters of the company name to read ‘Liberté‘ right over the factory gate…”

I guess the razor makers at Gillette weren’t taking part, otherwise they could have been joined by ‘Égalité.’

(OK, I know it doesn’t quite work, but I found it funny).

The humour comes through in many places, not least in this genius footnote when he describes:

“…a Gogol-like ghost job which I held for about six months before its editor said something to me that made it impossible to go on working for him. *

* ‘You’re fired,’ were the exact words as I remember them…”

On legendary English writer (and drinker) Kingsley Amis:

Kingsley had become increasingly vocally right-wing, it often seeming to outsiders that he was confusing the state of the country with the state of his own liver…”kingsley_amis-on_drink

On appreciating (and eventually moving to) the land across the pond:

“A crucial part of seeing America was also seeing how many Americas there were…”

On Salman Rushdie and the fallout of The Satanic Verses:

“He ignited one of the greatest-ever confrontations between the ironic and the literal mind: a necessary attrition which is always going on in some form…”

and on the same subject:

“It was, if I can phrase it like this, a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved. In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying, and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humour, the individual, and the defence of free expression. Plus, of course, friendship…”

A better balance-sheet of life I can’t think of right now.

At one point in this wide-ranging memoir, we learn a shocking fact about the increasing mental instability of Saddam Hussein:

“He had a whole Koran written in his own blood…”

And finally, the most touching chapter, (in contrast to early extravagances, such as an entire section dedicated to debating whether he is a Chris or a Christopher), was on a US soldier who died after enlisting partially based on reading Hitchens‘ writings. The author became close to the soldier’s family after his death, eventually attending the funeral service when, as he describes with a beautiful, heart-breaking phrase:

“…tears seemed as natural as breathing…”


Posted by on June 3, 2013 in BOOKS


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