A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
This short collection of writings done by Christopher Hitchens detailing his experience with cancer, dying and mortality reminds me in no little way of a 21st century Montaigne. While I was expecting Hitchens stoic materialism to jump off the page, I was also surprised by his gentleness. This is a man who loved life. He loved his family. He loved his friends. He loved to think, to write and to speak. Is there any greater testament to a life well-lived than to read or listen to a man's final words and walk away from that experience made better by his spirit and his strength. If "death is", to re-use Bellow's phrase, "the dark backing a mirror needs before it can give off a reflection," than Hitch's life and words were that same mirror's silver.
At first, I thought Lipsky was kind of operating in that opportunist zone (and I'm sure there is a little of that, b/c journalism never can claim to be opportunisticly free). Lipsky had, packed away, tapes and tapes of unused RS interviews with DFW. DFW has just killed himself, wow, a perfect time to rush it to press. The more I read and listened, however, the more I realized in many ways I preferred the rough, transcription-like, quality of the book AND that it wasn't as simple as it first appeared.
The dialogue between Lipsky and Wallace provided an interesting, unfiltered look into Wallace's method and a peek into his head (even though ultimately, I think Wallace was guarding that sanctum sanctorum pretty well). Wallace, during the road-trip interview, once remarked that writing was an intimate connection of the writer's brain voice with the reader's brain voice. Later, he expanded this theme when talking about how there are things that really good fiction can do that other forms of art can't do as well --
"And the big thing, the big thing seems to be, sort of leapin' over that wall of self, and portraying inner experience. And setting up, I think, a kind of intimate coversation between two consciences. And the trick is gonna be finding a way to do it at a time, and for a generation, whose relation to long sustained linear verbal communication is fundamentally different."
So, in that way, Lipsky's piece, while appearing at first to provide just a simple throw-up of all those unused RS interview notes and tapes, actually provides an avenue to see DFW's intimate 'brain voice' conversation. While at one level Lipsky has given us an interesting conversation between the author and DFW, it ultimately seemed to be a conversation DFW is having with himself (Lipsky here seems like a pretty good looking-glass for David Foster Wallace).
An interesting and in parts inspired take on Montaigne's essays, life, and times. I liked the Montaigne-inspired structure and the book's many insights, but alas, it still just wasn't Montaigne. I think this would be a good introduction to someone before reading Essays and for me was a good re-visit after I read (it gave me a lot of information about the region and people Montaigne dealt with consistently). But please people, don't read/listen to this to better understand Montaigne, there is a whole book he wrote that helps with that. So, use this book for pre/post Montaigne, but avoid using it as a replacement. Narration was appropriate for book.
I wanted to read this book from the moment I read a review in the New York Times. The title grabbed me by my inner truths and would not let me go, and I relate because my mother had the same philosophy, if she could even be said to have a "philosophy". It's the overall general sense of being "happy" vs being "normal" that got to me - not the specifics of Winterson's life. My mother, too, was big on being "normal" and also felt that being happy was an offshoot of arrogance - like "who are you to deserve happiness?" I am not attempting to define happiness here, just saying the idea was always presented as an unreachable ideal, only given to a privileged few, with the rest of us required to trudge along, suffering and miserable.
Anyway, the narration took some time getting used to - I initially found Ms. Winterson's voice to be a bit strident, with an accent I couldn't quite place, but I gradually acclimated and found a receptive space where I could listen with more peace. The accent and patterns of speech actually work to help create the ambience of mid-20th century Manchester, England.
I like that Winterson's description of the renaissance-like evolution and development of Manchester - from its dark days as Britain's foremost manufacturing town into a prosperous arcade of high-end consumer pleasures such as restaurants, art galleries, new housing created from vacated mill buildings - parallels her own journey of self-dicovery and reclamation.
The memoir proceeds chronologically, but sometimes it's not quite clear where we are in Winterson's life. Not a problem though, as things eventually do clear up, and the surface randomness of the story does not devolve into confusion for the reader; due to the beauty of the writing, sometimes it does not really matter. WInterson herself admits to not writing in a linear style, preferring a less structured way of selecting her scenes.
Although this is another story about growing up with a mother who is very odd in so many ways, unwilling and unable to show love, perhaps even to feel it, this narrative has its own animus, and I, as a reader, never tire of this subject nor of this genre. Winterson's rise from her very inauspicious and soul-destroying roots into triumph like the Phoenix from the ashes is a story that can be told again and again.