“This is the way to spot a rebel: they give no deference or even civility to their supposed superiors (that goes without saying); they also give no deference or even civility to their demonstrable inferiors.”
—Martin Amis on Christopher Hitchens
“Concerning Thanksgiving, that most distinctive and unique of all American holidays, there need be no resentment and no recrimination. Likewise, there need be no wearisome present-giving, no order of divine service, and no obligation to the dead. This holiday is like a free gift, or even (profane though the concept may be to some readers) a free lunch – and a very big and handsome one at that. This is the festival on which one hears that distinct and generous American voice: the one that says ‘why not?’ Family values are certainly involved, but even those with no family will still be invited, or will invite. The doors are not exactly left open as for a Passover Seder, yet who would not be ashamed to think of a neighbor who was excluded or forgotten on such a national day?”
Related Reading: “Philip Roth on Thanksgiving.”
George Packer neatly explains what’s wrong with Christopher Hitchens as a writer, and what’s right:
He gets out of the way just when one would want him to interrogate himself. Here is exactly the limit to Hitchens the essayist. But he goes so far and so well before running up against it that I always want to read him.
(Via Andrew Sullivan.)
I’ve hinted at my interest in Christopher Hitchens’s life and work before. Part of why I find him so interesting has to do with his prolificness. That is to say, how does he write as much as he does as quickly as he does? A recent New York Review of Magazines article sheds some more light on his work habits. Part of the secret, it seems, is not to watch TV:
The apartment where Hitchens lives with his wife, writer Carol Blue, and his daughter, Antonia, is cavernous but lacks much décor. Besides a grand piano in the living room, the only furnishings Hitchens seems to have acquired in two decades at this address are hundreds of books, many piles of which rest unshelved against the walls. His office in the apartment next door is equally spartan but for a pile of promotional books on the kitchen isle (the anti-liberal firebrand David Horowitz, among others, seeks a blurb from Hitchens for the back cover of his latest offering). A framed National Magazine Award rests on the back of the gas range, next to a refrigerator that houses a few bottles of water, a jar of mustard and little else.
Hitchens’ only television set is in the master bedroom. It’s a recent acquisition, Blue said, and she watches it more than he does. He hardly has time, he said, now that he’s working on a memoir.
There’s a rather lengthy profile of Christopher Hitchens in the May 2008 Prospect which contains some fascinating insights into his personal life and work habits, as well as his protean political views. Of course, it’s not really cool to like Hitchens – he is someone, after all, who isn’t afraid to savagely attack his friends in print – but as a polemicist he’s second to none, and I admire him for that. That and his thick skin. The following two quotes, in particular, stood out to me:
- “Christopher Hitchens’s apartment is curiously unchanged in the 13 years since I first visited him in Washington. A portrait of him and his wife, screenwriter Carol Blue, is still unframed. There is little art on the walls, few travel mementos; just bookshelves, a spacious living room, a modest kitchen and an annex for the alcohol. The aesthetic is not so much utilitarian as uncluttered of anything that would distract from the essentials of his life: reading, meeting people, drinking, laughing, arguing, writing.”
- “The appearance he gives of living improvisationally must obscure a ferocious interior organisation. Articles get written at any time of day or night, with extraordinary speed and fluency—however much he has drunk. He turns out a couple of pieces in the intervals while I’m taking a breather from merely talking.”