The Old Devil: A life of Kingsley Amis

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker:

AmisEvery country’s difficult literary guys are different, and you know from experience how to handle the kind you’ve grown up with. Reading Geoffrey Wolff’s excellent biography of the truly ornery American writer John O’Hara, you sense that you could have managed him, for one night, with a mixture of office-adultery gossip and writerly mumblings about advances and sales. But when you come to the super-ornery English novelist Kingsley Amis you realize that you have no idea what you could possibly have said to get through an evening. Office gossip would be bound to hit a clunker, publishing talk would seem vulgar: this is a writer who devotes an entire chapter of his memoirs to the minor American Jewish humorist Leo Rosten in order to tear him apart, because, on the one evening Amis spent with him, Rosten (a) didn’t give him enough to drink and (b) misused the English expression “local” to mean a nearby restaurant instead of a neighborhood pub. With someone like that, you just hide under the sofa, or hope you never run into him at all.

The bewildering thing is that, after having seen all his cussedness catalogued and inventoried—friends insulted, children ignored, wives betrayed, with maximum pain inflicted whenever possible—everyone on his side of the pond still regards him with backhanded affection: wonderfully wicked, magnificently rude, hilariously horrible, and so on.

More here.