Even if this is not the longest book I’ve ever read (and it may well be), it is certainly the single book that has taken me the most time in going fro...moreEven if this is not the longest book I’ve ever read (and it may well be), it is certainly the single book that has taken me the most time in going from cover to cover. I bought my copy not long after my wedding in 2006 and have been dipping in and out for nigh on three years, with a couple of periods of fairly committed reading, as well as a couple more of total neglect. It’s that kind of book—wonderful and satisfying, but far too immense to inspire (at least from me) unswerving devotion. Had I faithfully read from day one to the finish, I believe it still would have taken up a good six months’ time. As it stands, Amis’ letters have exerted incalculable influence upon the first three years of married life.
It’s been a great three years. (Marriage has also been good.) Having safely prefaced the present review with an account of the book’s length and staying power, I believe I can now get away with the Goodreads equivalent of murder by declaring this to be the single funniest book I’ve ever read. I suppose the only thing worse than according such an honor in the present slipshod forum would be to back up the same claim with nothing but a long excerpt. I find this to be a popular form of handicapped reviewing, wherein the reviewer states (but does not show) that the book in question is breathtaking, life-changing, etc, bothering to do nothing more in the way of furnishing proof than to quote an allegedly supportive squib or joke. By this curious refusal to say anything about how or why he admires the book under review, he shows (but does not state) that he has understood the book very little, if at all, and displays a skill for typing but not for reflecting.
I love Amis’ novels. Though this is the only book of letters I’ve ever read, I now see that I’ll be reading more in the future, though not a volume from just anyone. The myth seems to be that letters, which are of course addressed to someone other than the prospective reader, are too mundane or perhaps too dated, to justify publication; but let’s consider that. Are the letters you receive in the mail generally boring? They are only as boring as their authors. If their authors are lively, then the contents are only enhanced by that quality. By the same resistless logic, if a writer is any good at all, then whatever he puts his hand to is likely to shine. Just so with Amis. I already admire his novels, and I had read all of the glowing blurbs from his colleagues about what a scream they’d gotten from the letters. I’m happy to concur with all of them. Amis on the vicissitudes of the Thatcher government is as funny as he is on the insufferable self-satisfaction of academics and communists. Indeed, the two topics are inseparable when considering the shape and drift of Amis’ body of work. If you have ever enjoyed the unmistakable style and intelligence of Amis’ novels or essays, you cannot miss his letters. (less)