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Published: Sunday, 11/15/2009

Christopher Buckley: 'I will do my best to make Toledo laugh'

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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In his forthcoming book, Christopher Buckley, an adviser to every president since William Howard Taft, delivers a scathing refutation of the origins-of-the-universe theories of British physicist Stephen Hawking.

"That hack, so-called physicist who's been coasting on his reputation for far too long. I think it's about time someone took him on," says Buckley, who will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Stranahan Theater for the Authors! Authors! series.

Lest you swallow his tales of Hawking and Taft (president from 1909-13), let it be known that Buckley's stock in trade is satire.

"I will do my best to make Toledo laugh," says Buckley, who won the Thurber Award for American Humor in 2004 for his novel, No Way to Treat a First Lady. He loves to laugh and has a talent for inciting the same.

On his blog for the Daily Beast (thedailybeast.com), he recently drafted a speech for President Obama, about why he would decline the Nobel Peace Prize: "I don't know the Norwegian words for 'Let's get real,' but I tried earnestly to convey in plain English that awarding me the Nobel Peace Prize, at this stage of my presidency, opens the committee itself to the charge that it dispenses its gold promiscuously, without regard to actual accomplishment," Buckley wrote. "...To put it in very blunt terms, it is hard for me to believe otherwise than that I have been presented this award for not being my predecessor. ... Someone yesterday commented that it's as if the actual intended recipient of the award is those American voters who elected me last November."

Slurping mint tea at his home in Washington during a telephone interview with The Blade, he reflects on that column: "I thought it would have been the cool thing [for President Obama] to do. But alas it was too late."

Buckley, 57, has written 14 books. The most recent is Losing Mum and Pup, a memoir of his famous parents, William F. Buckley, Jr., conservative writer and commentator, and Patricia Buckley, a glamorous New York socialite, who died a year apart. It's his most popular so far - 100,000 copies were printed compared to 50,000 for "comic novels about Washington characters," he says.

"Some books want to be written; some books have to be written, and this one, for me, fell into the latter category." He churned it out in 40 days. "I went to bed one night with no thought of getting up the next morning and writing this book but I did. I woke up and started writing. It literally poured out. It was a pretty intense couple of years [his parents' final years] and they were, to use a real $6 cliche, larger-than-life people."

Like his famous father, he peppers his writing with $10 words: jeremiad, blancmange, bacchante. William, he notes in the memoir, was a far quicker writer than he, often completing a manuscript during six-week skiing vacations in Switzerland.

Buckley's talk will be literary and light of heart.

"It's sort of a string of anecdotes. It's about trying to come up with a title for one of my books. And it's an excuse to tell about 25 funny stories which are sort of autobiographical. If there's a running theme it would be the difficulty of writing satire in America today."

A conservative with libertarian leanings, he pulled the Democratic lever for the first time in 2008, a few weeks after writing a Daily Beast column headlined "Sorry Dad, I'm Voting for Obama."

He was immediately let go from the National Review, the conservative magazine his father founded and for whom he wrote the back-page column.

"I think it's more changed the way people have looked at me. I lost some friends over that, and I lost some business too, quite a few speech cancellations. I think people assumed because of my last name that I was a real right-winger. And if you cared to look at my writing you would be hard pressed to deduce that I'm an ideological right-winger. My instincts are conservative but my inclinations are also libertarian. Gay marriage does not bother me. My thoughts on that are if gays want to have the same fun [he chuckles heartily] that the rest of us married couples are having, my attitude is you're welcome to it and good luck."

The satirist in him imagined the fun he'd have writing if McCain-Palin had won office. "That would have been low-hanging fruit, material-wise."

A graduate of Yale, he served in the Merchant Marine, was managing editor of Esquire magazine at 24, and was then vice-president George H.W. Bush's speech writer.

"It was a great adventure. I was 29 years old. He was a lovely guy. If you're a speech writer for a president, you don't really see all that much of him because there's so many layers between you and him. But with a vice president, it's different. There were times when there were just the two of us on Air Force Two so I got to spend a lot of time with him and I'm grateful because he's a dear and lovely man."

In December, Cynara, a 15,000-word novella he spent the summer writing about two young men working on a sailboat in the early 1970s (as did he), will be released on Kindle through Atlantic Monthly.

As editor at large for ForbesLife magazine, he's traveled to and written about the Dolomites (in the eastern Italian Alps), Easter Island, Hanoi, and he followed the Iditarod dog-sled race in a Cessna airplane, all this year.

"It's a fun title. You're at large. Or in my case just large. If you come upon something that might make a good article you either do it yourself or pass it on to an editor."

Christopher Buckley will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Stranahan Theater as part of the Authors! Authors! series presented by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. Tickets are $10, $8 for students, and available at the door. The theater is at 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Information: 419-259-5266.

Contact Tahree Lane at:

tlane@theblade.com

or 419-724-6075.



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