Kingsley Amis’ writings on drink come around yet again
I am an everyday drinker, and also a (mild, I think) neurotic, so my drinking causes me some anxiety. Periodically, in a misguided attempt to calm my nerves, I will take one of those dastardly online quizzes, which invariably alarms me by asserting that I drink more than 98 percent of all adult females in the United States. I imagine the other 2 percent must be passed out in a pool of urine on Skid Row or strapped to a bed in a detox facility.
When I noted that a reissue of three volumes of Kingsley Amis’ writing on drinking had been compiled into a collection, Everyday Drinking, with a new introduction by the currently fashionable Christopher Hitchens, I thought that Amis, a noted tippler, could offer me some solace.
There is some solace to be had, as well as a chortle or seven, but the worthwhile bits are few. These books are primarily a hodgepodge of drink recipes and trivia. Most of the drink recipes are shockingly foul-sounding and half in jest—such as a cocktail of Scotch and champagne—or banal (Amis’ recipe for a Bloody Mary). I suppose you could try to make an impression at a brunch by informing the guests that they are drinking Kingsley Amis’ Bloody Mary, but I imagine that this declaration would be following by an awkward silence only broken by the tinkling of ice cubes.
The chapters on wine are even more useless. Amis informs me that if I locate a trustworthy wine merchant, I should expect to pay around 80 pence for a bottle of nonvintage Sauternes, which makes me long for a time machine, but otherwise does me no good whatsoever, as do such tidbits as the postal address of the British Wine Development Board. After finishing the first volume collected here, I began to wonder who had authorized this reissue, and my consternation only deepened upon beginning the second volume and finding that a majority of the bon mots from the first volume were rephrased in the second!
Amis crows in the introduction to the second volume (which is a collection of weekly newspaper columns he wrote in the early 1980s) that he felt a “certain satisfaction” upon the original release of this collected journalism because, “Being paid twice for the same basic work is always agreeable.” In that case, his heirs must find it agreeable indeed that they have now been paid thrice for the same slender output.
The third part of the book, which is a trivia quiz categorized by the libation type (e.g., “Aperitifs and Such”), is simply a regurgitation of all the facts about distillation, brewing, etc., which Amis imparted in the first two volumes.
A rereading of Amis’ most famous novel, Lucky Jim, reminded me that it contains one of the most hilariously accurate representations of a bender ever put to paper, as well as an uproarious account of “Lucky” Jim Dixon’s attempt to cover up the damage incurred during said bender while in the grips of a dreadful hangover the next day. Now, Lucky Jim has a weak plot in which everything is tied up neatly though implausibly at the end, but because of Amis’ devastating powers of observation and his immense wit, it stands the test of time in a way that the collected pieces in Everyday Drinking have not.