Like open bags of candy that you dip your hand into each time you walk by. I’m talking about Martin Amis’ essay collections; I bought one set for home and one for work. There are three books in all—"The War Against Cliché", "Visiting Mrs. Nabokov And Other Excursions", and "The Moronic Inferno". I read only a few paragraphs at a time (can’t bear to exhaust them too soon) but have been dipping into them daily for several weeks now. There are essays here on literature, politics, culture, music, film, sports, damn-near-everything. I thought I’d slap a couple of brief passages up here, one on a British poet and the other on "the fillet of the crime genre" (as Jeff Daniels patronized him in "The Squid And The Whale").
Philip Larkin was not an inescapable presence in America, as he was in England; and to some extent you can see America’s point. His Englishness was so desolate and inhospitable that even the English were scandalized by it. Certainly, you won’t find his work on the Personal Growth or Self-Improvement shelves in your local bookstore. “Get out as early as you can," as he once put it. “And don’t have any kids yourself.”
All his values and attitudes were utterly, even fanatically “negative". He really was “anti-life"—a condition that many are accused of but few achieve. To put it at its harshest, you could say that there is in his ethos a vein of spiritual poverty, almost of spiritual squalor. Along with John Betjeman, he was England’s best-loved postwar poet; but he didn’t love postwar England, or anything else. He didn’t love—end of story—because love seemed derisory when set against death. “The past is past and the future neuter"; “Life is first boredom, then fear". . .That these elements should have produced a corpus full of truth, beauty, instruction, delight—and much wincing humour—is one of the many of great retrievals wrought by irony. Everything about Larkin rests on irony, that English speciality and vice.
[on Elmore Leonard]: [He] possesses gifts—of ear and eye, of timing and phrasing—that even the most snobbish masters of the mainstream must vigorously covet. And the question is: how does he allow these gifts play, in his efficient, unpretentious and (delightfully) similar yarns about semiliterate hustlers, mobsters, go-go dancers, cocktail waitresses, loan sharks, bounty hunters, blackmailers and syndicate executioners? My answer may sound reductive, but here goes: the essence of Elmore is to be found in his use of the present participle.
What this means, in effect, is that he has discovered a way of slowing down and suspending the English sentence—or let’s say the American sentence, because Mr. Leonard is as American as jazz. Instead of writing “Warren Ganz III lived up in Manalapan, Palm Beach County”, Mr. Leonard writes: “Warren Ganz III, living up in Manalapan, Palm Beach County." He writes, "Bobby saying", and then opens quotes. He writes, “Dawn saying”, and then opens quotes. We are not in the imperfect tense (Dawn was saying) or the present (Dawn says) or the historic present (Dawn said). We are in a kind of marijuana tense (Dawn saying), creamy, wandering, weak-verbed. Such sentences seem to open up a lag in time, through which Mr. Leonard easily slides, gaining entry to his players' hidden minds.
More: The New York Times archive page on Martin Amis; An interview with Robert Birnbaum; A Tingle Alley reference to his Nabokov worship.