The relationship between literary talent and literary fame is not so interesting to discuss (being so much discussed, and yet being uniquely subjective). Why should we care if the writers we love are also famous, or even consistently described by tired but still meaningful terms like “glamorous”—or, more specifically, “best-selling”?
Conversely, can we feel cultish about books that are rarely read, written by hermetic, deeply serious scholars with no interest in a party? The coincidence of an upcoming New Yorker list of “Twenty Under Forty” finest writers with the publication of Martin Amis’s new novel reminds us: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Some writers move in and out of fashion. Others are appointed for life, like Supreme Court Justices.
Amis is on the Court. Whatever he writes, he will have our attention. One irony of being a talented novelist is the ardor with which critics bear down on your later works. Like the lens put to lovers, the high, early moments of affairs between reader and writer remain to mark the almost axiomatically deeper disappointments of later encounters. The Times was not kind about Amis’s new novel, but will this fact deter his fans from reading it? Not likely. Will it change his reputation? Not a chance.
In her poem, “An Idle Thought,” literary editor Deborah Garrison wrote about Amis as a literary star:
I am never going to sleep
with Martin Amis
or anyone famous.
At twenty-one I scotched
my chance to be
one of the seductresses
of the century,
a vamp on the rise through the ranks
of literary Gods and military men,
who wouldn’t stop at the President:
she’d take the Pentagon by storm
in halter dress and rhinestone extras,
letting fly the breasts that shatter
crystal—then dump him too,
and break his power-broker heart.
While the confluence of sex and fame isn’t new, the meaning of the confluence of literary celebrity and literary skill still interests an influential, if insular, crew. They will read the tea leaves for us in the Twenty Under Forty. What Amis once wrote of money (“It’s a fiction, an addiction, and a tacit conspiracy”) is true of tracking literary stars, and star-makers–and tacit is not a dirty word in this case.