This post is going to be long winded, I can feel it. So, anyway, you know, if you’ve stuck with me on this most sporadic of blogs, that there are two things going on in my reading life at the moment. I’m spending the commute to work reading all the free classics that I downloaded onto my Kindle in a fit of enthusiasm four years ago when I first acquired the device, and my bedtime reading is devoted to working my way through the huge pile of paperbacks that has accumulated on my bedside table over the last few years, most of them handed down from other people. This dual task I’ve set myself is killing me. Reading has become a chore rather than an escapist pleasure. I’ve told myself that once I’ve finished the bedside pile I can read anything I want. And then I thought of another reading “challenge” (what’s wrong with me? why can’t I just read?) but not really a challenge because it will be enjoyable rather than a chore — I will start patronising my local bookshop where they have the most fabulous, beautifully displayed collection of contemporary literature, and every time I go there I will buy myself a book, and I will work my way through an alphabet of contemporary authors, starting with A.
Once I’d thought of this challenge I couldn’t summon up any interest in the last three books in my bedside pile (Life of Pi, Everything Is Illuminated, The Interrogative Mood). Last weekend I went to the bookshop and I bought The Information by Martin Amis. Never read any Martin Amis before. Why? I have no idea. He always struck me as curmudgeonly, sexist, one of those very male writers. But I absolutely loved this book. And then I downloaded The Pregnant Widow which I’m reading now. On the train. Instead of Trollope. It is such a joy to read such hilariously funny, beautiful writing. I never want to leave the worlds he describes.
I met him once. In London, back in the mid 1990s. Well, not really met him. We were at the same party, and someone said look, there’s Martin Amis, and I looked and there he was, walking past. The party was a launch for a friend who’d just had his first book published, a young Anglo-Indian novelist at a time when there were several new Anglo-Indian voices appearing on the literary scene and causing quite a stir, so much so that John Updike wrote an article about them in the New Yorker and reviewed my friend’s book Can you imagine. I digress. Anyway, if I’d read any of Martin Amis’s books then, I don’t think I would have been able to stop myself from going up to him and telling him I loved him.
Amis is obsessed with age, or rather with ageing. Today is my fifty-first birthday, so it’s a topic much on my mind too. He’s got wonderful things to say, which don’t necessarily make you feel any better about the ageing process, but are still somehow comforting. How about this:
As the fiftieth birthday approaches, you get the sense that your life is thinning out, and will continue to thin out, until it thins out into nothing. And you sometimes say to yourself: That went a bit quick. In certain moods you may want to put it rather more forcefully. As in OY!! THAT WENT A BIT FUCKING QUICK!!! Then fifty comes and goes, and fifty-one, and fifty-two. And life thickens out again. Because there is now an enormous and unsuspected presence within your being, like an undiscovered continent. This is the past.