Much more fun than being a hunger artist if you ask me.
Kingsley Amis was a hangover artist. Had he written nothing more than his description of Jim Dixon regaining consciousness after a bender, his place in literature would be secure. “He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning,” Amis writes in “Lucky Jim,” his first (and best) novel. Dixon’s “mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.”
Feeling bad isn’t such a bad thing, from Amis’s point of view. With its “vast, vague, awful, shimmering metaphysical superstructure” of guilt and shame, the hangover provides a “unique route to self-knowledge and self-realization.” In his book “On Drink,” Amis recommends a raft of remedies for the Physical Hangover and then gets on to the Metaphysical Hangover, a combination of “anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future” that may or may not be the result of alcoholic overindulgence. Dealing with the Metaphysical part of the equation entails reading Solzhenitsyn, which “will do you the important service of suggesting that there are plenty of people about who have a bloody sight more to put up with than you (or I) have or ever will have,” and listening to Miles Davis, which “will suggest to you that, however gloomy life may be, it cannot possibly be as gloomy as Davis makes it out to be.”
“On Drink” is one of three slender books Amis cobbled together from his newspaper columns on the subject in the ’70s and ’80s, the others being “Everyday Drinking” and “How’s Your Glass?” (the British equivalent of the expression that serves as the title for this column). They are back in print at last, Bloomsbury having gathered them into one delightful volume under the title “Everyday Drinking” that’s now hitting bookstore shelves. It is essential reading for any literate bibber.
There is an art to writing well about drink and drinking, and about other drugs too. Easy enough to write under the influence, ahem, but writing about the experience itself is more of a challenge.
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Oh, and my memory serves, Amis was for a time a mentor and close confederate to Christopher Hitchens. Don’t really have a point, just trying to see if my fingers still capable of translating thoughts to the page. There were some doubts.