Friday, June 7, 2013

Review: Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens

Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens (2010)
[cover photo from]

Hitch-22: A memoir, if you're up for it

For fans of Christopher Hitchens - that is, for people who know a bit about the guy beyond just his writings - Hitch-22 is a great look at what made the man tick and how he sees his legacy.

For those reading Hitch-22 as a way to get to know Christopher Hitchens for the first time, this might not be the book to do it, unless they studied English Lit in college and still have a deep interest in it.

It's clear from this book and his other writings that Hitch's first love was always English literature. It defined him, his thinking, and his impressions of himself. In Hitch-22 he yearns with as much humility as he can muster to be considered among his favorites W. H. Auden, P. G. Wodehouse, Martin Amis and many others whom he quotes at length.

For the first few hundred pages, you'll hear more about writers with two initials in their names than about Christopher Hitchens, so be prepared.

Aside from that, you will learn a lot about the mind of Christopher Hitchens. Some biographical details - family history, childhood in boarding school (including some interesting thoughts on the development of his sexuality) and role as a student of revolution, but this one is a memoir of the cerebral sort.

Rather what you would expect from a book about Christopher Hitchens written by Christopher Hitchens, actually.

But readers who, like me, are interested in gripping recollections of Hitch's many adventures around the world, the front-row seat to liberation struggles and back-room discussions with influential figures, will probably be disappointed.

Hitch-22 is a memoir that takes place in the mind; how Christopher Hitchens came to be himself, how he developed his thoughts, feelings, and talents, etc. Wherever an external event has shaped him, it is described only so much as necessary for him to ruminate at length about what effect said event had on his revolutionary thinking, or what role it may have played in the context of history and literature.

Interesting, yes, but not a terribly quick read and not one that I would recommend to anyone who didn't already feel a strong affection and admiration of Hitchens. I have been reading his writings for years, and I consider myself a fan. So while I know a lot more about him than when I started, I still know there are more stories to tell.

And it's too bad he's no longer around to tell them.