A Little Entertainment (Just for the Heck of It)

A friend of mine used to call certain men “entertaining.” They might not be marriage material, but they could be fun for a dalliance. They were certainly a diversion; they made her laugh. As for serious objects of desire, they had to have at least some entertainment value. What good was a partner – be they rich, handsome, or blameless – without a sense of humour?

Okay, AMP,’ you say, ‘this isn’t a matching-making blog.’ Right. Onward, from amour to fiction, just for the heck of it. Critics and scholars often classify novels as being either commercial (i.e., entertaining) or literary. Nobel-prize nominee Graham Greene, widely-read and widely-respected, called some of his novels “entertainments.” Critics said it downgraded his oeuvre. I don’t see it that way. In my view, to be entertaining is a plus, not a liability. Books won’t save the world. However, they might take your mind off a few woes or tickle your brain – a little entertainment.

Inside Story: A Martin Amis Funhouse

Review of Inside Story by Martin Amis, 2020.

An Amis novel is like the weather in May. You never know what to expect. I’ve loved two of his novels (London Fields and Time’s Arrow), liked others, and, on occasion, been completely disappointed.

Amis’s prose is inventive, but it’s often overdone. He’s certainly no Hemingway, limiting adverbs and adjectives. On the contrary, Amis wields them like a boxer, at times jabbing, but usually lining them up for a haymaker. Over the course of five decades, he’s managed to alienate both sides of the reading divide: to literary stuffed shirts, he’s uncouth; to genre buffs, he’s too high-minded. As for Inside Story, I didn’t love it, yet it tickled my funny bone. And my mind. I laughed aloud and, every twenty or so pages, I stopped to think – on everything from Donald Trump to death to beauty to the history of the novel.

Inside Story is a mashup of fictionalized autobiography, literary observations, and sociopolitical opinions. Although subtitled A Novel, the book is largely (and unabashedly) biographical. When Amis is at his best, the narrative has a gravitational pull. His words spin a funhouse of warped mirrors. He regales readers with unique insights, both frivolous and cerebral. Some dismiss Amis as sexist. Others say he’s a bounder; still others, a little shite. I don’t care. I’m loathe to shun books due to their writer’s transgressions. [Having said that, if Putin writes a book, I’ll shred it.]

Alright, back to Inside Story. Martin Amis grew up in a time and place of, let’s say, amorous exuberance (Swinging London, 1960s-70s). If you enter his funhouse, you’ll encounter womanizing, yes, and braggadocio, but also poignancy, self-doubt, and generosity of spirit.

A few excerpts from Inside Story:

On the English language: “Great Britain no longer had an empire – except the empire of words; not the imperial state, just the imperial tongue.”

On the pretzel logic of Biblical hellfire: “It’s not that eternity never ends – it never even begins.”

Describing Donald Trump: “That chicken-hawk, that valorised ignoramus, that titanic vulgarian, dishonest to the ends of his hair.”

Shepherding a Flock of Words

A few weeks ago, Ben Fox of Shephard.com asked for a curated list of books for his new site. The site was created to link readers to books, not just any books, but books recommended by authors as opposed to algorithms (which are used extensively by sites like Amazon).

Ben asked for a focused theme. I chose “the best Canadian detective and mystery novels.” My top five 📚 recommendations are:

A Siege of Bitterns by Steve Burrows

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

Until the Night by Giles Blunt

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe

Click the link below to see the full recommendations and a review of each title.

https://shepherd.com/best-books/canadian-detective-and-mysteries

Unwitting Accessories

Criminology studies show that many murder victims do something that leads to their deaths: e.g., they cheat, hoard money, or assault someone. In such cases, from one point-of-view, they trigger their own demises. They are accessories to their own murders – unwitting accessories.

“Accessories, AMP? How can you call them that? They didn’t conspire to kill themselves.” Agreed, they didn’t, not in the strict sense of the word. {Just to be clear: I am not an apologist for murderers. I don’t blame murder victims for their deaths. They were killed; they were not killers.} I’m expanding the meaning of the word accessory, bringing a new version to life – well, to death. Crime fiction approaches death directly. Homicide detectives don’t euphemize or obfuscate; they pursue the Grim Reaper with open eyes. They believe a person’s actions have consequences.

I’m with them. I don’t know if there’s life after death. I can’t say if there’s a heaven or hell. However, there’s one thing I’m sure of: What we do in life counts.

Our Blue Beauty

There are billions of us riding on this blue beauty, the Planet Earth — through no volition of our own. We were simply born. We accrued health, wealth, and/or happiness. But a madness has been monopolizing the airwaves, one called entitlement. Caveat: If you’re here for detective fiction, give this blog a miss.

The sloganeers say we deserve Michelin-star meals, haute couture fashion, etc. Maybe we do. But the earth can’t provide everything we deserve, not for so many of us. Eight billion humans can’t all live like kings or queens.

To bring things closer to home — Canada, that is — I hear pundits saying the country’s population (now about 38 million) should be 100 million. They say it’s a big country, and it is, but the vast majority is north of the 50th parallel. And what if we want nature to flourish? I doubt Canada will experience overpopulation in my lifetime. However, let’s think of the planet as a whole. For its sake, let’s avoid going over nine billion. Which leads to a thorny proposition, yet not a new one: population control.

I realize there are numerous quagmires. For example, who implements said control? I don’t have answers – except fictional ones – but I do see a clear choice. Either we all try to live like gods, or we live like mortals — equal mortals — somewhat constrained yet content, our needs well met.