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The Letters of Kingsley Amis Hardcover – November 21, 2001

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 1212 pages
  • Publisher: Miramax Books (November 21, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786867574
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786867578
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.4 x 2.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,641,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Beautifully organized and annotated...Some of the best of Amis, it turns out, is in his letters." -- The New York Times Book Review

About the Author

KINGSLEY AMIS was born in London in 1922. From his fictional debut with Lucky Jim to his death in 1995, he published twenty-five novels and numerous works of non-fiction, verse, volumes of short stories, and anthologies of poetry and prose. He was also a prolific critic and polemicist in newspapers and magazines. He was knighted in 1990. ZACHARY LEADER is professor of English literature at the University of Surrey Roehampton. Among his books are Reading Blake's Songs, Writer's Block, and Revision and Romantic Authorship. He lives in London, and is a regular contributor to The London Review of Books and The Times Literary Supplement.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Roger Lathbury on December 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Amis's letters are a lot of fun, as you might expect. Amis is often as outraged and funny as in his best fiction (especially in the letters to Larkin). Often in literary appraisals he is acute, and he always seems true to something in himself, so that even when one disagrees--i. e., T. S. Eliot is not simply a pretentious bore--one goes along.
Good as this correspondence is, it isn't up to Larkin's letters because Amis doesn't believe or feel as deeply as Larkin does, nor does he have as focussed a perspective as Larkin, so the humor isn't set set off in such sharp contradistinction to a fundamental seriousness. Yet you keep reading because the book clears away cant and intellectual fustian so vigorously. Moreover, it gives just enough glimpse of Amis's biography: a sad, messy counterpoint spreads out in the background: the meanderings of a brilliant man with a zillion reactions and nothing firm to attach them to.
Larkin's parody of his own poem "Days" on page 1040 is not to be missed; it's in one of Leader's helpful footnotes.
This book weighs a couple of pounds, so is hard to hold--to be read at table rather than in bed. Couldn't the publisher have used lighter weight paper and given us smaller type and less margin?
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Horton on January 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Kingsley Amis is one of my favorite post-war novelists. I had not before read a collection of letters, and I confess there was a time when I would have thought the idea of actually reading through someone's lifetime of letters just plain idiotic. But in fact I found these fascinating -- interesting to read for the biographical details, hints of the creative process, discussion of his works and Philip Larkin's works in progress -- as well as often very very funny and sometimes eyebrow-raisingly nasty.
Zachary Leader has chosen about 800 of several thousand surviving letters. The great bulk are to the poet Philip Larkin, his closest friend. Another huge chunk are to another very close friend, the writer and Sovietologist Robert Conquest. He also corresponded a good deal with my favorite novelist, Anthony Powell, another good friend of his (though Amis betrays a certain lack of confidence in his friendship with AP -- I sense that he was intimidated by Powell's upper class background and lifestyle, by his rather mandarin literary taste, and by his age). There are many letters to his second wife, Elizabeth Jane Howard, as well as a rather unfortunate set of nasty comments about her in other letters after their rather ugly divorce. Lots of letters to agents and publishers -- these rather interesting from the writing business point of view. Quite a few responses to fan letters -- these generally quite gracious and often offering interesting answers to questions about Amis' books. Unfortunately no letters to Bruce Montgomery ("Edmund Crispin"), another of Amis' special friends: they cannot be inspected until 2035!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Brown on November 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Volumes of letters should be judged by their editing as much as their content, hence the five stars. Z. Leader is thorough, intelligent, impartial, and exact. There is sufficient scholarly apparatus to guide the working academic and the demanding lay reader. As for the letters, well, there are a lot of them. Despite his professed laziness, Amis cranked off an immense amount of smart, thoughtful, scurrilous, and funny correspondence in the 50+ years recorded here. Exemplary funny bits are on pages 276-277 in a 1952 letter to Philip Larkin. If you laugh, buy the book. If you don't, don't. If you're shocked by cruel, rude jokes between close friends, don't. Amis demanded, and often provided, hard thinking, precise expression, and blunt honesty. His staunchly conservative, sometimes reactionary, views contrast interestingly with his drunken philandering, which should provoke thought among those readers who enjoy thinking at all.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By conjunction on March 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
To anyone interested in Amis, these letters are indispensable. The core of this 1200 page book is his correspondence with Larkin. At some point Amis says the only pleasures in his life are talking to Larkin and listening to jazz. I am not a fan of Larkin's and haven't read his poems or any biography or letters so I am only getting Kingsley's side but what comes through is enormous enthusiasm and joy and brilliance in language play and especially a completely unsnobby love of the written word.

Amis doesn't like Chaucer, Milton, Keats, Shelley, D H Lawrence, Nabokov, Dylan Thomas and a lot of other lesser writers. But his written testimony for the trial of `Lady Chatterley's Lover' puts in the most cogent terms what he thought Lawrence was about and the moral value of it. Perhaps surprisingly made a trustee of Dylan Thomas's estate, there are here printed several letters in which he staunchly defends Thomas's caucus from attempts to commercialise it.

Amis once said in here that he would prefer a world in which there was too much reason rather than one in which there was too little, and perhaps he dislikes literature he sees as undisciplined - although in music he seems to have different tastes, liking Tchaikovsky and early jazz, for its tone if you don't mind. In literature he likes poems which are intelligible and he appreciates formal values. He is less vocal about what he does like but the list includes Graham Greene, Raymond Chandler, John Dickson Carr, Dick Francis, Shakespeare, Yeats, Wordsworth, Edward Thomas, A E Housman and of course Larkin. Don't mention Ted Hughes.

If you enjoy Amis's unbelievably funny novels, you will have trouble putting this down. You will also have trouble picking it up but unlike one reviewer I had no problems with the binding of my 1200 page hardback.
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