To Christopher Hitchens, from a young contrarian

Last week, my favourite recipient of cuddles asked for something to read that would sharpen her appreciation for masterful English writing. A single writer sprang immediately and irrepressibly to mind: Christopher Hitchens.

Offhand, I let two books recommend themselves: the obligatory God is Not Great, the most politically and historically insightful of the Gnu Atheists’ works. And my favourite, the handbook for thoughtful troublemakers, Letters to a Young Contrarian. If you haven’t read it, please do!

Letters to a Young Contrarian

Letters to a Young Contrarian

Hitch, of course, died within 24 hours of my suggestion. It was not unexpected, but it came as a shock nonetheless. And as I picked up my worn copy of Contrarian, I was jolted by the aptness of the spent cigarette on it’s cover: risky, brief in existence, full of pleasure, widely criticised and iconic.

As his Vanity Fair editor notes:

Christopher was the beau ideal of the public intellectual. You felt as though he was writing to you and to you alone. And as a result many readers felt they knew him.

And so it was. A friend of mine once got an e-mail from him, and I saw him squiffily sing Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Song in the Sydney Opera House. That’s the closest I ever came to shaking his hand, but I knew (as did thousands) that he was as warm and kindly as he was forthright, and as likely to disagree with you as agree. He was unpigeonholable, and I wish we were all a little more like that.

As any lettered reader will assume, I am deplorably poorly read. I think I will try to honour Hitch (in addition to the obligatory dram of ‘Mr Walker’s Amber Nectar’), by reading a little more than I have been lately.

And I will start by re-reading Letters to a Young Contrarian, and doing it better.

Ade, Hitch.

Western Sydney Freethinkers drink to Christopher Hitchens

Western Sydney Freethinkers drink a Johnny Walker to Christopher Hitchens


  1. Posted December 20, 2011 at 14:32 | Permalink

    I should be whipped in the tallest stocks, for I have not read either of those two works by Hitchens.

    I have always meant to, but I have found that since I have spent so much time on teh interwebz, the amount of books I have read in the past two years has dropped to 0 (from a couple of books a week).

    I blame “big techno” for my slackness.

  2. Posted December 20, 2011 at 14:51 | Permalink

    Agreed, Scott.

    In our defence: in years past, to be abreast of all that mattered was to subscribe to a decent paper, a few periodicals and to read widely.

    Now we’ve got News 24, GTA, the blogosphere, social networking, e-mail…

    But we do need to squeeze a decent book or two in there, I guiltily think. And J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown and that silly vampire woman don’t count.

  3. Posted December 20, 2011 at 14:54 | Permalink

    The guilt I feel for not reading a good book can be a bit weird at times. It’s like I’ve tossed away a friend that I have had since I was a child.

    I was thinking what the last book I read was – and there at the top of my stack of books (80% I haven’t read yet) was the God Delusion.

    If the weather is fine this weekend, I intend to walk to Hagley Park, sit under a tree with some good espresso and read one of the books that I continually buy yet never read.

  4. Posted May 1, 2014 at 05:17 | Permalink

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