THE LEGENDARY MAN OF LETTERS STILL HAS A FEW SCORES TO SETTLE
FOR OVER FOUR DECADES, writer Martin Amis has been a regular contributor to publications like The New Yorker, Esquire, and The Observer, chronicling the worlds of politics, literature, and entertainment in finely crafted prose. While his novels The Rachel Papers, Money, and London Fields established him as British literary royalty (succeeding his father, Sir Kingsley), it is his essays — addressing subjects as diverse as actual British royalty and the Malibu porn industry — that best showcase Amis’s wit and intellect.
The Rub of Time, a new book collecting 45 articles written between 1994 and 2017, covers the writer’s ongoing literary obsessions — his idols, Vladimir Nabokov and Saul Bellow — as well as the failed second act of John Travolta. It also offers no shortage of commentary on present-day politics; after relocating to New York in 2011, Amis arrived in America just in time to study Donald Trump’s political ascension. There is something gleefully fun about such a talented, illustrious author documenting his close read of Trump’s poorly written opus, Crippled America. Not surprisingly, Amis proves just as funny and insightful in conversation as he does in writing.
One of the pieces in this collection reflects on book tours. In it, you write that you’ve felt “robotically garrulous” while having to answer questions in city after city. Are you at that point yet?
I’m better now. It’s part of the professional discipline. And it’s exciting going to exotic places on airplanes. What’s no fun at all is doing interviews with other countries and the interviewer can’t speak English. You find yourself simplifying your answers to eighth grade English.
Speaking of youth — this book is dedicated to your grandchildren, Isaac and Eleanor. In one essay, you talk about the name Tim not typically positioning one for greatness. How did you go about selecting your own kids’ names?
Clio, my youngest daughter, was named for the muse of history. My first son, Louis, has my middle name, and that’s the most traditional I’ve ever gotten. With your first child, you spend months trying out names — it becomes a sort of torment. My first wife and I at one point agreed that we were going to say “To hell with it” and call the child Toilet. You don’t pay as much attention with your subsequent children. Because of that, your first child ends up clever and neurotic — I’ve gathered that’s the sort of pattern. The second is more scholared and more in control.
How has fatherhood been different than you’d expected?
I’m more and more convinced that, apart from choosing your spouse, producing children is the best thing you ever do. I felt quite broody when I was in my early thirties. That surprised me. I thought only women felt broody, but you do want a fresh face around the house. And it goes on being tremendously interesting — as long as you have halfway-normal ones, as mine all are. I shudder to think what life would be without them. Of course, it’s the least cool thing possible to be a grandparent, but you get over that. I just wish I saw more of my grandchildren, who are in London.