A fastidious effort to portray the mighty Kingsley in his full glory.

THE LIFE OF KINGSLEY AMIS

Latest of several biographies of the British comic novelist, written by the editor of his letters and sanctioned by his son, the novelist Martin Amis.

This capacious, cluttered life of big-living Kingsley Amis (1922–95) emphasizes the craftsmanship of his fiction and the importance of his frequently overlooked poetry. Leader (English Literature/Roehampton Univ., London) aims to show “what it was like to meet Amis and to be him.” The facts don’t differ from those documented by Eric Jacobs in Kingsley Amis (1995) and Richard Bradford in Lucky Him (2001). Amis’s father was an office worker; the family lived in a drab London suburb. Kingsley attended City of London School and in 1940 went up to Oxford, where he formed seminal friendships with Philip Larkin and “The Seven,” who all loved jazz and wrote poetry influenced by Auden. He served in the Royal Signals Corps, then returned to Oxford and took up with art student Hilary Bardwell. Hilly got pregnant, and they got married in 1948, shortly after Amis’s first book of poetry, Bright November, appeared. A legacy from Hilly’s mother allowed the growing family to live comfortably while Kingsley lectured in English at University College of Swansea. Aided by Larkin’s critical suggestions, Lucky Jim emerged in 1954 and made Amis’s reputation. That Uncertain Feeling, I Like It Here, Take a Girl Like You and other succeeding novels increased his fame and added him to the ranks of the Angry Young Men, a label he repudiated. He’d always been an inveterate drinker and philanderer, but his more serious affair with Jane Howard prompted Hilly to break up the marriage in 1963. (Leader takes care to show Amis’s tenderness toward his children.) Moving from documentary realism into such genre efforts as Colonel Sun and The Green Man, the increasingly dissolute and aggressively self-interested author never lost his literary powers; The Old Devils won the Booker in 1986.

A fastidious effort to portray the mighty Kingsley in his full glory.

Pub Date: April 10, 2007

ISBN: 0-375-42498-9

Page Count: 1008

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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