I’ve been reading Martin Amis new book called Inside Story which he calls a novel. I’ll do a video review on it once I finish but so far, all I can say is that the writing is beautiful. It’s as if I’m catching glimpses of his life and in particular, the moments he shared with Christopher Hitchens (who has long been a crush of mine).
“Art and life don’t really have much in common. Art is woman’s shoe (slender heel, curved arch, tapering toe); life is just that functional clog of flesh and bone down there at the far end of your leg. Art consists of choices; with life, you just take what is given. Finally art can at least aspire to be deathless. And life isn’t like that.”
Now I haven’t read any other novels by Martin Amis so I don’t have much to compare this book to but I do like that he was inspired by other writers like his father, Kingsley Amis, among many others that he mentions in his book. Also getting glimpses of the friendship between him and Hitch is something that I love to read. Every night I look forward to opening the book and picking up where I left from because it feels like I am also there – sharing a spontaneous laugh, a drink and a smoke with a couple of blokes talking about life.
Maybe I have an idealistic view of the life of a writer sitting around weaving in stories and quoting excerpts from books, knowing your way around the English language with wit but something really appeals to me about their life.
They have the knack of being able to observe life around them and then in words, express and evoke in us different emotions that bring us elements of surprise and delight. Things that we may have missed because we had our mind elsewhere usually on things that take away our attention.
They experience life fully yet can take the time to step away from it momentarily to lock themselves up somewhere to tap out out a story, an essay, a poem – works that prod the rest of us awake again.
In the chapter Postludial, Martin Amis describes it to his father, Kingsley Amis as:
“To be a poet, to be a writer, you have to be continuously surprised. You have to have something of the fucking old fool in you” and then continues with a quote from Borges who said that people who aren’t writers or poets “take it all for granted. They accept the face value of things”.
“Writers take nothing for granted. See the world with “your original eyes”, “your original heart”, but don’t play the child, don’t play the innocent….you know more than that, you know better than that. The world you see there is ulterior: it is other than what is obvious or admitted.”
“So never take a single speck of it for granted. Don’t trust anything, don’t even dare to get used to anything. Be continuously surprised. Those who accept the face value of things are the true innocents, endearingly and in a way enviably rational: far too rational to attempt a novel or a poem. They are unsuspecting.”
What a handy skill to have! I am jealous to say the least that when I read some books, I am moved to tears reading the words on the page because it’s as if they speak to me directly. They cut to the core of what I believe in and then it’s laid bare out there because you realise you’re not alone feeling this way.
Maybe the reason is that like writers, there are others like me who are continuously surprised by people, by life, by society. Books only make you realise that there are others like you. They just have the skill of getting it down on paper.
Today, I read a post about the advice that another one of my favourite author’s Ernest Hemingway provided to Arnold Samuelson. Hemingway provided Samuelson a list of books that he should read that would help him with his writing and it got me thinking about the books that somehow changed me, moved me, had me thinking for a long time afterwards.
Here’s a list of my most favourite books in my life that I read and that triggered something in me that took me out of my stupor. They shook me up and forced me to take note and return to being continuously surprised.
- The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
- The Old Man & The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
- Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
- All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
- Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
- Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
- The Essays of George Orwell
- The Alchemist – Paulo Coehlo
- Captain Correlli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres
- A Fortunate Life – AB. Facey
- Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
Which are the books that made an impact in your life. That made you not take things at face value?