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 have to admit that the Truman Capote story on Marlon Brando was a bit disappointing. But the rest, oh my! What a wonderful book of stories; it starts with Lillian Ross on Earnest Hemingway; then goes to Katherine White, one of the founding editors of the New Yorker; then goes on to profile boxers, "cool finders", a tightrope walker; Heloise (from Hints from Heloise); Edna Buchanan (Miami crime beat reporter); Isadora Duncan, and even a champion show dog. My two favorites were Mr. Hunter's Grave by Joseph Mitchell and A Pryor Love (about Richard Pryor) by Hilton Als. Mr. Hunter's Grave was not really about a person so much as about a small town on Staten Island; I know, I don't make it sound like much, but really, I hated to have it end. The story on Richard Pryor was insightful -- it showed the flaws in the man with such compassion and with enough understanding of Mr. Pryor's past to show how it all worked together first to make him into a celebrity, and then brought him down again.
The narration on all the stories is good, but it is the writing that really makes this book stand out. It is the sort of writing that transports you from where ever you are into the world being profiled. You come away wanting to know more about the people discussed, and feeling like you may have met some new friends. 10 hours is not enough for this book; I hope they will put out the unabridged edition. I will go back and listen to these stories again.