Plato says that the unexamined life is not worth living. But what if the examined life turns out to be a clunker as well? Kurt Vonnegut: Wampeters, Foma and GranfalloonsThe Young Christopher Hitchens
This is my first time reading a Christopher Hitchens's book; of course, it is not my first exposure to Hitchens. He was a favorite of talk shows. (He followed his friend Gore Vidal's advice never to turn down a chance to be on TV.) He attended rallies and protests domestic and foreign. He wrote incendiary articles that would invariably find their way into my email box or into a magazine I subscribe to. Even people who don't consider themselves right or left know who he is. As he aged he never lost the fire in his belly and always felt he could right a wrong. I didn't always agree with him, but found that he had a knack for wiggling some doubt into my own convictions.
Invariably with autobiographies, or biographies for that matter, a certain percentage of the book always has to be spent examining ones childhood. I always feel like I'm slogging through this part of the book as they make a case for critical moments at prep school or their mommy didn't love them enough or some other claptrap. (That is a broad stroke statement and certainly does not mean to say that all people have a relatively boring childhood, but most of us do even those people who eventually become famous.)With my own kids and I love them like crazy I still can't wait for them to mature intellectually. When Dr. Henry Jones says to Indiana You left just as you were getting interesting.
I knew exactly what he was talking and fear that my experiences with my kids may be the same.
Luckily Hitchens does not spend an inordinate of time talking about his childhood. The English obsession with prep school can not be avoided, but he did make me laugh as he negotiated the agitated waters of homosexual activity at the school. He referred to it as "tummy rubbing". As it turned out he didn't have much interest at the beginning of his tenure because he matured late and didn't have the pressing hormonal driven need. As he got older and even after he graduated he did find himself more interested in sex. He was good looking as a young man and received attentions from both men and women. Friends, somebody said, are "god's apology for relations." I was one of those who had tended to think of friends at school as comrades or acquaintances or co-conspirators or cronies or sex partners(or an occasional salad of all four).
Hitchens didn't really understand the obsession of America with homosexuality. I find it comical myself whenever I hear some politician making hay out of sexual orientation. Remember Senator Larry Craig, the airport foot tapper from Idaho a firm advocate against gay rights? Whenever I hear some bigmouth in Washington or the Christian heartland banging on about the evils of sodomy or whatever, I mentally enter his name in my notebook and contentedly set my watch. Sooner rather than later, he will be discovered down on his weary and well worn old knees in some dreary motel or latrine, with an expired Visa card, having tried to pay well over the odds to be peed upon by some Apache transvestite.
Christopher Hitchens never pulls any punches and at one moment you might be laughing gleefully at something he said that has put someone else on the ropes and the next moment you may find yourself looking blearily upward into the craggy face of a referee hearing a ten count yourself.
Hitchens was best friends with Martin Amis and if anyone, as I am, is a fan of Martin Amis you will enjoy the stories he shares about time spent with Amis. He had a fiery friendship with Edward Said. He shared time with Gore Vidal, some would say he was the heir apparent to Vidal's acerbic style. He knew Salman Rushdie and corresponded with him for the rest of his life. I got to met Rushdie myself in San Francisco at Green Apple Books by mere chance. [b:The Moor's Last Sigh|9865|The Moor's Last Sigh|Salman Rushdie|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1359386233s/9865.jpg|1003150] had just been released and Rushdie arrived at our bookstore unannounced because he was still under a death threat from the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He came in with a bodyguard and signed our books. I shook his hand and then he was gone. It gave me a brief glimpse of what his life was like being constantly on the run. Hitchens had uneasy friendships (friendship did not always keep his friends from feeling the lash of his acid pen.) with many of the leading writers and leftest leaderships of the world.
He had deep and abiding hatred for Henry Kissinger and spent a good deal of time trying to make Kissinger's life a living hell. He wrote inflammatory books and articles exposing the lies and corruptions of the man's political maneuverings. Despite liking Margaret Thatcher, which may have been based somewhat on an odd sexual attraction, he did pound away at her policies. He relates an amusing story about meeting her and apologizing for something he had wrote about her that wasn't absolutely true. He bowed to her and she asked him to bow lower. She smacked him on the rear with a rolled paper. As she walked away, she looked back over her shoulder and gave an almost imperceptibly slight roll of the hip while mouthing the words: "Naughty boy!"
I think he may have discovered one of the ways Thatcher kept her politicians, predominately male, in line.
Hitchens really didn't like Bill Clinton. He had known him while Clinton was in England on a Rhodes Scholarship. For one, he may have known too much about Bill during his college days. The more I hear about Clinton in England the more unsavory the stories become. Hitchens took a lot of heat from the left for the shots he took at Clinton during the 1992 election. One thing everyone needs to understand about Hitchens, and I admire him for it, is that he is his own man and can be as critical of the left as he is the right.
Hitchens was summoned to the Vatican to be asked questions about Mother Theresa. I haven't read his writings on her, but from what I understand he thought she was out of her mind. The Vatican put him in the role of Devil's advocate as they decided on whether she was deserving of a sainthood. What? Hitchens, the great atheist, summoned to the center of Christian faith to be asked his opinion?
He left his mark on the world. He sliced and diced his enemies, which he truly felt were also the enemies of the world and he defended his friends when he agreed with them and vehemently disagreed with them when he had an opposing view. It must have been lonely at times being Christopher Hitchens. He died, too young, at age 62 from esophageal cancer in December 2011. The tone of this volume is jocular at times and very serious at others as he hammered home his views. Whatever your political association you will squirm reading this book. He was his own man, a man to be admired, but maybe not a man you would want to know too well unless you are someone who likes being challenged on every core principle you hold dear. I will definitely be reading more books by Christopher Hitchens. One warning after reading this book you might find yourself voicing those opinions that normally you would keep silent. He has certainly had that influence on me.