When the ones you love are kind of…awful

Reading this article in the Guardian about the latest snide Martin Amis remark to disgust people, I was struck by a familiar sentiment:  Oh, Martin, must you always make it so embarrassing to like you?

Apparently Amis declared that he would only write a children’s book if he had brain damage.  Charming, truly charming.  With one asinine comment, he managed to insult children’s book authors, the brain damaged, and, well, children.

Now surely, this attitude problem is much of what Amis is all about and at least part of the reason anyone bothers to talk about him.  (For the record, the other part is that he’s genuinely talented.  Whatever he may be as a man, I truly love London Fields.)  This isn’t the first time he’s said something seemingly exclusively to annoy others.  The protagonist of Money is one of the more repulsive characters in contemporary fiction, and Amis named him John Self.  (Points for self awareness, perhaps?)  And a great many writers of wonderful, wonderful things were also terrible, terrible people.  If we ruled out the artistic products of people who are not also lovely people we don’t object to, it’s terrifying to think what cultural gems we’d lose.  The list of drunks who were nasty to their wives alone would deprive us of much of the canon.

I could list examples, but I’d be here all day.  Instead, enjoy this clip of Jill Sobule singing “Heroes,” her song on this very subject.

Giving that a listen, there are far worse things one could be than a jackass, I suppose.  I think my issue with Amis is less his attitude, which I’d potentially find amusing and endearing if he ever seemed insightful or funny or clever when putting someone down for no reason.  It’s not like I want him to be nice.  It just all seems to come from such a defensive, sad, ain’t never gonna win the Booker sort of place.  Witness his public kerfuffle* over everyone’s favorite British non-celebrity, Katie “Jordan” Price—when an acclaimed literary novelist comes off as jealous of a girl who is famous for wearing little clothing, being so tacky that tacky people look on in horror, and trying to date herself into greater stardom, I find it hard to get upset about his misogyny.  What he was saying was sort of beside the point—the aggravating thing is that he felt the need to say it at all.  It’s not easy to see this as a brave man speaking truth to power and damn the consequences.  Instead, he just seems petulant and insecure, and really, I just want him to be more.  If he’s going to take people down for sport, is it too much to ask that he do it with style and a little more effort to hide his wounded ego?

Looking at your own favorite books, are any of them written by people who are sort of hard to champion?

*With the standard caveat that Wikipedia is perhaps not the most accurate source of information.  Suffice it to say that I’m assuming no one’s sabotaging the integrity of this particular piece of information.  It’s not like it’s a subject where accuracy is of vital importance, like Justin Bieber.

8 Responses to When the ones you love are kind of…awful

  1. Ciara says:

    I thought the response from Katherine Langrish was brilliant:

    “People who make shoes or clothes, or who prepare food for children, aren’t generally considered less skilful than those who do the same things for adults – why is the opposite so often assumed to be true of books?”

    I can’t think of any authors I love that are difficult to like but there’s a lot less gossip about authors than there is about say actors and bits and pieces of celebrity gossip have put me off seeing movies with certain actors.

    • Lauren says:

      Langrish’s reply is pretty great–thanks for highlighting it! Good point about actors. Maybe that’s why Amis always catches my eye, since many other authors shy away from the kind of publicity he courts.

  2. You could say it’s unfair to judge the person (instead of the art), but I still find myself less interested in artists who seem rude or boorish.

    I saw Katie Price on Graham Norton’s show and she seemed sweet and endearing. After all the jokes about her on British talk shows and AbFab I imagined she’d be much more crass. She certainly doesn’t pretend to be anything but what she is. Though it’s laughable to say someone with that much surgery is genuine, she came off that way.

    • Lauren says:

      That’s always been my take on her as well, Katharine. She knows who she is, and she doesn’t try to be anything else. There’s surely nothing anyone can say about her that she wouldn’t have already admitted about herself! She’s pretty easy to mock, but she’s self aware and not trying to pretend anyone’s going to take her seriously. That’s more than can be said for many celebrities of her ilk.

    • Mare says:

      Katharine — me, too! If an artist is, hm, let’s say “not so nice” I lose my taste for them. I don’t think it’s realistic that artists and celebs are angels all the time. They are human — but so are we, and that means we can be rubbed the wrong way by another.

  3. Yahzi says:

    Jack London was pretty much a racist nut-job, but Call of the Wild & White Fang are still great literature.

    Actually, whenever you read an author that’s more than 50 years old, you have to be prepared to excuse the most amazing levels of racism, sexism, and superstition. Even Mart Twain -that ur-skeptic – gave some credence to telepathy, just because of the limitations of his times.

    • Lauren says:

      It’s true that the farther back you go, the more you find yourself forgiving. I think it’s easier to cut people some slack if their era is to blame for their thinking, and it probably isn’t fair to judge people by contemporary morals if they are not themselves contemporary. But I’d hesitate to give Amis much wiggle room on that account–I think he’d find a way to stir up controversy in any time!

  4. Mare says:

    Not a “favorite book” and definitely not a “favorite author,” is Jen Lancaster. Yes, she’s funny, yes, she’s an engaging read, but I can not stand someone who is so obviously full of herself — and it’s not just the “character” she makes herself out to be in books. At readings, she’ll stand up, unprepared, and announce, “I didn’t prepare for this, so I’m just gonna turn to a random page and read,” and then stumble like an 8th grader during a recital through her own words.

    I’m a teacher and performer. Way to show disrespect for your audience, Jen.

    And, to me, how much you love or hate mindless reality shows on Bravo is not good writing.

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