Conversation recall · Reading

Conversation Recall: Martin Rees, or Martin Amis?

I haven’t written about Conversation Recall yet this month. Some people are not so good at it. They misremember conversations, or just make things up.

Some years ago I was having a conversation over dinner with some friends. We were discussing books. A member of my family was in the room, not really taking part in the conversation. We were talking about Martin Amis, a writer I read enthusiastically in my 20s and 30s. I haven’t read much by him since I turned 40 but I think that’s probably true for many of us. I’m not into his writing as much now as I was then. That was the gist of our conversation.

About a month later, discussing books again, with some other dinner guests, I recommended Martin Rees’s book “Our Final Century” which I’d just finished reading. (I had met him briefly just beforehand at a college reunion – he was Master of my old college at the time.)

The same family member who had been on the edge of the previous discussion about Martin Amis shouted (or said very stridently), “Martin Rees? But you HATE Martin Rees. What have you got his book for?” I am affected nearly as strongly by the memory of this hairdryer in my face as I was by the outburst itself. I am still surprised by it.

I eventually responded. “Martin Rees? Martin Rees? Astronomer Royal, Master of my old college, Lord Rees of Ludlow? When did I ever say that I didn’t like him, or his work?”
“Well, who was it you were talking about before? Martin someone.”
“Martin Amis?”
“Yeah, him.”
“Well, I didn’t say I hated him. I said that I used to like his books, and don’t feel quite so enthusiastic now.”

And that was it, no apologies from that family member for accusing me of hating someone that I don’t hate, or misremembering my opinions. That’s how some people are with conversations. They just make things up. You say, “I’m not as enthusiastic about the work of Martin Amis as I used to be”, and that’s reinterpreted as hatred for the work of someone else called Martin. We’re dealing with the same lack of attention to detail here as tabloid-reading lynch mobs, on the trail of paedophiles, who attack paediatricians instead. Well, at least nobody got beaten up over this one.

For the record, I would still recommend “The Information” (by Martin Amis) to anybody over the age of 30. The reviewer David Sexton described it memorably when it was published: “this book isn’t about a mid-life crisis. This book is a mid-life crisis.” And I continue to recommend “Our Final Century” (by Martin Rees).


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