Friday, February 11, 2011

You're terrible, Muriel

English writer Martin Amis, quoted in The Guardian:
I say, 'If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book', but otherwise the idea of being conscious of who you're directing the story to is anathema to me, because, in my view, fiction is freedom and any restraints on that are intolerable.
 Pass the popcorn.

21 comments:

Martha Brockenbrough said...

What about a minor brain injury? Would he write a Dan Brown book?

What a jerkface.

Philip Nel said...

Ooh, I love an experiment! So, then, if someone would thwack Mr. Amis in the head with, a blunt, heavy object, then, when he comes to, we can give him pen and paper. I look forward to seeing the results.

Anonymous said...

Martin Amis has barbed opinions and children's book authors are touchy about being taken seriously. What else is new?

J. L. Bell said...

Former child actor (A High Wind in Jamaica) mouths off.

Melinda said...

Dear Martin:

You don't want freedom. What you want is a rope. I will send you one.

Sincerely,
A Fan.

Michael said...

I'm sorry, Martin who?

Michael said...

Oh, my bad. I Googled him and it turns out he's Kingsley Amis' son.

Anonymous said...

It must be hard to be an aging enfant terrible.

Liz B said...

roger, you left out my favorite part! "I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than what I can write."

Roger Sutton said...

Oh, Anon at 7:48, it can be done. Watch for my memoirs ;-)

Amis is of course an idiot, but so are all the writers for children who blather on about how they "write for themselves." Okay, they're not idiots, and some of them actually do, but few are unaware of having an audience whose life and literary experience does not match their own. I think that's what Amis means--he and other high-culture writers write as if they and their audience share parity as adults and readers. Plus, think about all the otherwise decent adult writers who make themselves sound like idiots when they write for kids. Maybe Amis would be one of those, in which case thank God for his prejudice.

Robley H said...

I once took a course from his father, Kingsley Amis. We read 32 novels in one semester. All he did was harp on and on about Graham Greene's poor grammar and punctuation. His son Martin is a beloved and controversial novelist who inherited his father's crabbiness apparently. I once had to read his novel MONEY for a graduate class. As a woman, I was offended. As a reader, I was bored. As a person, I hated it. I would be happy to read nothing by Amis again, including this ludicrous comment.

Anonymous said...

Just because Mr. Amis won't write a children's book that doesn't mean we can't write one for him. Can someone provide a synopsis of a children's book as written by Martin Amis? Maybe Roger will mail the writer of the best one a Cadbury Creme Egg as a prize.

Michael said...

It's true that kid readers are not the equals of adult readers. They're superior.

The average adult reader is completely devoid of imagination. Which is why adult readers at their most refined read books that are all about writers showing off their command of the "craft."

The plot of the typical adult literary novel is, "Some dude has his head all the way up his ass and for some reason can't figure out how to extract it." A bright kid reader would be looking for a rational solution to the ass-head problem while the refined adult reader literally cannot imagine a world where ass-headedness can be successfully addressed.

The reason I write the way I do for kids is that I can count on the kids to bring their imagination to the book so I don't really need to spend 20 pages describing the exact feeling of ass-head syndrome in exquisite detail. I can say, "Dude had his head all the way up his ass," and know that my reader will, with nothing but her unimpaired imagination, do an infinitely better job creating the picture than any writer can manage.

So, no offense adult literary writers, but a lot of your words are expended for the sole purpose of compensating for the brain damaged condition of your readers.

Melinda said...

Ha! Michael hit the nail on the head.

Where Martin Amis thinks his audience comes from, anyway? Apparently not from the children who read good, intelligent children's books. *His* readers spring full-grown out of his forehead. Or his ego, same difference.

Roger Sutton said...

Michael, I hated that argument when Madeleine L'Engle made, when Philip Pullman made it, and now you. ;-)

The idea that children are somehow instinctively open and adept readers is balderdash, and the notion that books for adults are boring and overcomplicated is something that can only resound within the walls of an SCBWI conference. To say that genius cannot reside in children's books (as Amis implies) is nonsense, but to say that books for adults need to overcompensate for their unimaginative readership is laughable.

Michael said...

Roger:

Well, I had not realized I was keeping such exalted company. I'm definitely the third wheel in that trio.

I don't think I said children are open and adept readers, I said they have intact imaginations. And adults generally don't. There's a fair bit of research showing that imagination is a declining asset as people age.

If I ask a 5 year old to tell me a story about something happy I can get back almost anything. If I ask the same of an adult I'll get back a series of clarifying questions: they'll instinctively push to narrow their options.

If you talk to kids' groups -- as I do -- you see the gap just between middle grade and YA crowds. And then there are the teachers, the parents and the professional book folk.

The problem with your response is that you think you're comparing readers of Junie B. Jones to readers of Rushdie's latest. Not so fast.

We start with a body of potential readers in childhood that is quite broad, approaching 100%.of say the 6 year-old age cohort. By the time they're in YA that's down by far more than half. By the time they're 50 years old we're down to what? 10% of people? That's probably too high, that would be 30 million Americans. And the number who read "serious" literature? One tenth of one percent maybe? 300,000 people?

So, Roger, when you compare "child" reader to "adult" reader, especially readers of literary works, you're comparing apples and oranges. The first is a vast, democratic population and the second is a tiny, insular tribe with outposts in Manhattan, Park Slope and San Francisco.

The average adult doesn't read. At all. The overwhelming majority of them don't read. So an honest comparison between kid and adult is a comparison between readers and non-readers.

But if you want to be a little more fair, then consider the "average" adult reader who actually does read. He's reading Dan Brown, not David Foster Wallace. The guy sitting in the business section re-reading Angels and Demons is the "average" adult reader if you generously subtract the vast bulk of non-reading adults.

Now tell me, in all honesty, that's a more sophisticated read than Yertle the Turtle, or Octavian Nothing or A Wrinkle In Time.

As for Amis not writing to a particular audience? Nothing could be more narrowly-defined than the body of readers of serious literature. Subtract all those who don't have a liberal arts degree from an Ivy or Seven Sisters university. You'd cut that demographic by two thirds.

nw said...

Well said, Michael! And I think Amis's pride in never taking his audience into account is misplaced. Really, it's just another way of saying he lacks range, like an actor who always plays himself.

Melinda said...

"If you don’t catch them young, you won’t have any adult readers." -- Margaret McElderry.

:(

Amy said...

What is ridiculous to me in Amis's statement is the assertion that he doesn't write with consciousness of his audience. I've never read any of his books, but if they're half as good as millions of British people seem to think they are, then he is a decent writer and of course he thinks of his audience, as all decent writers do.

Guess he isn't as free as he thinks he is.

Stephanie Greene said...

The comments by Martin Amis have nothing whatsoever to do with the nature of the child vs adult reader. The man is famous for saying stupid things. He obviously has no idea what writing for children is all about.

It was tough, being the son of Kingsley Amis. One tends to pale by comparison. That's what children's book authors write about.

Roger Sutton said...

Michael, I'm with you re the reading tastes of most adults and the reading tastes of most children--they pretty much line up in terms of literary sophistication. I think Amis is talking about being a literary writer, and he doesn't realize that we have literary writers for children, albeit not many. This is not to damn children's books as a whole, merely that we don't see many "art for art's sake" books. The children's book field is much more mediated and is greatly affected by the desire to get non-readers to read more,resulting in a greater portion of the pie going to easy, reader-conscious books.