By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Simon Prebble
Hitchens’ capacious knowledge and clever phrasing intimidates and delights casual and committed pundits. Whether to heaven, hell, or the great void, Hitchen’s passing is a great loss. Hitchens’ proves that one may fail as a memoir maven (“Hitch 22”); yet brilliantly succeed with insightful essays about literature, other writers, and a Marxian view of the world.
This rough categorization of Hitchens’ essays is wholly inadequate because in truth Hitchens covers a gamut of historic events in the Middle East and a wide range of subjects from water boarding to the evolution of the word “blow job”. Hitchens is considerably more than the sum of this inadequate review.
“Arguably” may not change one’s mind about literature, religion, politics, or blow jobs but Hitchens’ passing is an intellectual loss to writers and readers that endeavor to say what they mean and understand what they say.
Hitchens introduces many authors and subjects that are superficially well known and often discussed; he also introduces obscure authors and subjects rarely discussed. Most have heard of George Orwell, Gore Vidal, and Stieg Larson but few know Rebecca West, George MacDonald Fraser, or C.L.R. James.
Like all book reviewers, Hitchens recounts beliefs and arguments of a book based on personal experience, education, and bias but he brings more than expected. He includes comments about other books the author has written or makes general observations that relate to the book being reviewed. Hitchens reports on incidents in author’s lives that often clarify an author’s written meaning.
When writing about George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, Hitchens includes comments on “1984”; he also says something about “Burmese Days”, and dengue fever to show his understanding of Orwell’s literature and the man that wrote the book.
Another example, Hitchens adds a titillating aside to the death of Stieg Larsson, the author of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. He suggests Larsson may have been murdered. The speculation connects to Nazi hate groups living in Sweden.
Hitchens looks into Stieg Larson’s family history to support his speculation. If one reads Larson’s famous book, murder by neo-Nazis seems somewhat plausible. An added piece about Larson’s family and Sweden’s politics slightly raises the bar of believability. At the same time, Larson’s death at 50 years of age is noted by Hitchens to have been from a heart attack thought to have been caused by heavy smoking and a family history of heart/stroke maladies. It is Hitchen’s research, reading and writing that vivify his reviews and seize one’s imagination.
Intellectual refuters whether tongue-tied or gregarious conceivably blanch when arguing with Hitchens because of the depth of his experience and knowledge. There are several debates with Christopher Hitchens, by different commentators, that can be seen on u-tube.
At the very least, a reader of Hitchen’s essays will be exposed to a wider world of literature, politics, and belief than most slingers of solipsistic clap trap. Hitchens does not always hit the mark of enlightenment or entertainment in his essays but he is rarely boring. Hitchens’ forays into Pakistan, North Korea, and Iran and his offer to be water boarded are tributes to his manic effort to know the truth of what he writes.
One can salute Hitchens’ intellect and bravery without necessarily believing what he believes. His pursuit of first hand experience; his erudition and wide literary exposure are what any writer or reader admires. One believes he will be loved and missed by many. “Arguably” is a fun and fascinating profile of a very interesting human being. [contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]