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.
First, this is a book that probably comes off better as an audio work rather than a print edition. It is largely a compilation of interviews and letters, which lend themselves to being read aloud. The readers here, especially Campbell Scott are very compelling. Reviews I've read of the print edition complain of the book's length and make it sound like a slog to read. So for those with a choice, the Audible edition is probably the best bet.
As for the content itself, this book cries out for a skilled editor. It is too long and some sections, especially the authors' analysis, could have been cut to make a more readable book. The authors' attempts to imitate Salinger's style are cringe-worthy but fortunately don't dominate the book.
The authors especially go off track in expressing the dubious idea that Salinger's study of Vedanta led him to stop publishing, renounce the world and live a hermit-like existence. The authors seem to think that this is a Vedanta prescription for living. I have been a member of the Vedanta Society for more than a decade and that is not a way of life followed even by the monks, who publish books and travel, give lectures and even have Facebook pages. Being a Vedanta devotee did not stop Christopher Isherwood from living an active gay life in Hollywood while helping translate Vedanta literature, publishing his own novels and memoirs, lecturing at universities and giving press interviews. The SALINGER authors' repeated contention that Vedanta "killed" Salinger's art is just not credible. They misconstrue Vedanta as a monolithic and dogmatic belief system with extreme lifestyle restrictions when it is anything but that. Members of the Vedanta Society as well as monks and nuns are free to follow the spiritual path that resonates with them individually. Anyone who doubts that might want to read Isherwood's MY GURU AND HIS DISCIPLE.
From the many interviews and letters that make up this book, it appears that Salinger did not live the life of a hermit in a cave. He travelled, attended sporting events, corresponded with life-long friends, loved television, and read The New York Times. As several people quoted in the book point out, the myth of Salinger the hermit stemmed mostly from the fact that for many possible reasons, he stopped publishing his stories, avoided press interviews, shunned the New York and L.A. social elite, and wouldn't allow The Catcher in the Rye to be made into a movie. He wasn't a hermit. He was an author who avoided the marketing and media publicity machine that dominates American pop culture.
A good biography of Salinger is yet to be written. This is obviously not it. But for those interested in the man and the artist this book contains a lot of very interesting information.