I’m very happy to report that this time around, I managed to finish Jeremy Lewis’s Kindred Spirits. I read it cover to cover, skipping more than three (or four) paragraphs of descriptions, none of actions, in the entire book.
Kindred Spirits is a recounting of Lewis’s years in the publishing world, during which time he donned the various hats of publicity manager, junior editor, literary agent, freelance reviewer and hired-hand writer, literature editor of the academic press at Oxford University, back to editor at a literary house, and finally writer (both biographer & auto-b). His writing shows wonderful control. Lewis got exactly that “self-deprecating tone” that “combine[s] comicality with an underlying melancholy, vigorous anecdotes with a corrosive sense of the sad absurdity of things”, the combination he ascribed to his favorite biographers, to whom he pleaded “pallid emulation”.
Being a figure in the publishing sphere, Lewis is also the perfect node to connect to other literary personalities. Everyone in English publishing, it seems, makes an appearance in his book, resulting in satisfying voyeurism for his readers. I find myself nodding knowingly every time a name I’ve encountered before in another piece of writing, whether their own or yet another’s, makes an entrance onto the stage — much like tipping my hat to an acquaintance in the corridor. There’s Andre Deutsch and Diana Athill; here Leonard & Virginia Woolf, accompanied by Christopher Isherwood, whom I met via Mr. Vidal, and Henry Green, by way of Ms. Ciuraru; and over in the corner (of page 166) Evelyn Waugh and Cyril Connolly, the latter we get to know through Lewis’s own full-length treatment of a biography, Cyril Connolly : a life.
Last: Lewis is a terribly unreliable narrator in his autobiographies. He deliberately pulls the wool over our eyes in telling us his life story. He portrays himself as always diffident, often inadequate, unfailingly mild and feeble, unambitious, stuttering, lowly paid, and eager to agree to whatever inadequacies others find in him. Yet, he is, time and again, offered marvelous jobs by people in the trade; thought of highly by his colleagues; a multiple-times published author; and altogether a success (as far as I tell) in both his career and home life. Surely Mr. Lewis is more capable than he is letting on!