I keep a small bookshelf of literary memoirs in my bedroom and I often go there when I want to read a few pages before sleep. Last night, I grabbed Martin Amis’s Visiting Mrs. Nabokov — which really doesn’t belong there — and read his reportage from the set of Robocop II and then a piece on Nicholson Baker, written when Baker was enjoying a great deal of attention for Vox.
It begins: “Writers lives are all anxiety and ambition. No one begrudges the anxiety, but the ambition is something they are supposed to shut up about. The two strains are, of course, inseparable, and symbiotic.”
He goes on to detail how Baker, writing in the divine “U and I”, his book about Updike, admits that he longs to befriend Updike. “All writers will recognise [it’s the British version] the truth of these childish desires. It took Nicholson Baker to own up to them and realise their comedy. Writers want to disdain everything, yet they also want to have everything; and they want to have it now.”
The piece is funny and knowing, although Amis can’t muster much enthusiasm for Vox. (He clearly admires the earlier books, Mezzanine and Room Temperature.) He freely, breezily announces his envy of Baker, whose book was selling very well. He quotes Baker’s editor: ["Don't let Nick fool you, he wants to be rich and famous."] (I think that’s a little tacky, on the editor’s part.) Baker, meanwhile, readily confesses to his desire to have the No. 1 bestseller, leading Amis to this observation:
“[Baker says] The writer’s mind is always leaping forward. So, in that sense, he is fully prepared, as all writers are — even the most obscure, even the unpublishable. In their minds, they have all been bestsellers, and golfed with John Updike, and lost sleep (as Baker has) over acceptance speeches for prizes they haven’t been entered for, let alone won.”
Heading to New Orleans this afternoon, I decided I had earned some time for discretionary reading. I’ve been on a roll, enjoying the galley of James Hynes’ NEXT (fabulous) and Deborah Copaken Kogan’s BETWEEN HERE AND APRIL. (Talk about a literary kindred spirit.) So I packed a galley that promised to deliver a comedy of academia, in the vein of David Lodge and Alison Lurie, two favorites. And, so far, so good. I’m quite enjoying it.
But here’s what really drew me to the book: It’s the first novel by a writer who has written two well-received memoirs.
Cue eerie music.