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Book Review / Discoveries

August 24, 2008|Susan Salter Reynolds

Every Day Drinking

The Distilled Kingsley Amis

Kingsley Amis with an introduction

by Christopher Hitchens

Bloomsbury: 302 pp., $19.99

It's ENOUGH to make you dedicate your life to the subject. The essays collected here were written between 1971 and 1984 and are culled from "On Drink," "Every Day Drinking" and "How's Your Glass?" During that time, lest you assume that a fascination with alcohol precludes serious work, the editor points out that Kingsley Amis "produced eight other books and a handful of edited volumes." The essays from "On Drink" are the funniest and most philosophical -- Amis on "Mean Sods" (cheap hosts), hangovers, "How Not to Get Drunk," etc. In his essay on "The Hangover," which Christopher Hitchens refers to as a "piece of selfless research," Amis fills a void by offering a cure for the spiritual manifestations of the hangover, a "unique route to self-knowledge and self-realization." The essay includes a section on "Hangover Reading," in which the author recommends the final scene of "Paradise Lost" and Solzhenitsyn's "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." Amis, a "beer-and-spirits man," bemoans the lack of adequate funding (no rich father) in his youth -- the reason he claims to know little about wine ("three barley wines, a pint of rough cider and a small whiskey gave you the best return on five bob"). He includes a bit about giving it up for a few weeks: "When I was drinking I had the drink to blame for anything under the sun," he reports. "But now it was all just me. A thought that must drive a lot of people to drink."

What Rhymes With Bastard

A Memoir

Linda Robertson

MacAdam/Cage: 250 pp., $24

"This IS the story of how a very nice boyfriend became a Plastered Bastard and how I wrote some songs about it." So begins Linda Robertson's memoir/love story of a boyfriend gone bad. Unfortunately, she marries him to get out of England and because she feels "honoured to be licensed to reproduce with a man of such noble bearing: with his perfect skin, vision and teeth, and no allergies, he was in the fast lane of the gene pool." They move to San Francisco, where her shallowness is predictably rewarded: Jack seems dead set on destroying her by sleeping with other women, failing to find work, drinking and doing drugs. Loosely written, funny but not funny (especially the world of online dating), it's a tale of new beginnings, the story of a girl who settles for less on her way to becoming a self-made woman.

Confessions of a Contractor

A Novel

Richard Murphy

Putnam: 274 pp., $24.95

"The FIRST thing a woman needs to know about renovating a house or apartment is simple: do not, under any circumstance, sleep with your contractor, no matter what your husband or boyfriend is doing to you, or not doing to you." This advice from Henry Sullivan, the narrator of this very funny novel, if followed, would severely limit the amount of sexual activity in Los Angeles. Breaking his own rules, contractor Henry has been fulfilling the dreams and fantasies of rich L.A. women for 15 years -- and he has the scars to prove it. But when he falls into relationships with two women who used to be friends, the walls come tumbling down. It's a very familiar slice of life -- the world of renovation and the god-like status contractors have attained in this home-improvement-crazed society. Perhaps that familiarity explains why the novel has a written-for-television sheen that makes it all the more entertaining. You don't so much read a novel like this as watch it unfold, scene by scene.

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susan.reynolds@latimes.com

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