Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Kingsley Amis, Favorite Author -- BOOK THOUGHTS


Kingsley Amis, Favorite Author

"If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing."
~ Kingsley Amis in Lucky Jim

Kingsley Amis was born on this day in 1922. He is in my pantheon of favorite authors, right up there with Graham Greene, Jim Harrison, Iris Murdoch, Philip Roth, Muriel Spark, and Evelyn Waugh.

But Amis holds a special place in my reader’s heart. His Lucky Jim book, which I first read in a college lit class, opened my eyes to the idea that “literature” could be funny. Until then – after books in school like The Grapes of Wrath, A Separate Peace, and Othello – I assumed all “good” writing was stone cold serious. I even missed the funny bits in books like Huckleberry Finn and Oliver Twist because I was sure anything I thought was funny must be a mistake on my part, not intentional. 

Then a professor assigned Lucky Jim and I couldn’t help laughing. Here was poor Jim Dixon, bumbling his way through college (as a new professor) just like me and my friends: Jim trying to go to class hungover, struggling through a lecture while drunk, getting rejected in love, wanting to impress the adults, and making embarrassing gaffes. I was laughing and my professor was explaining how the novel was a turning point in English literature. Turn away, I thought. I want more of this.

Because of Amis, I learned to read "good books" for pleasure, not just because I should. So I’ve been an Amis fan going on 40 years. I’m still less than halfway through all his books because he was prolific. He was fortunate to live in a time when the publishing industry tolerated popular authors writing anything they wanted, as long as they turned out a new book on a regular basis. Along with the comic novels of which he was the master, he turned his hand to mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, alternate history, poetry, biography, and essays. He was also a prodigious letter writer, especially with his buddy Philip Larkin.

The picture above is my collection of Amis books. Those I’ve read are on the left. This includes four volumes of Lucky Jim, which even I recognize is excessive, but I love the Penguin triband and the later Penguin with the Edward Gorey cover. Those in the stack on the right are the ones on my TBR shelf, including two biographies.

Have you read anything by Kingsley Amis? What’s your favorite? 

I keep a bibliography of Kingsley Amis books here on Rose City Reader, noting those I've finished, those on my TBR shelf, and those I have yet to track down. 

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