Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Wry Martinis ()

    American conservatives are doomed to suffer in squaredom for a simple reason (besides weak hair):
    their stance of Permanent Moral Disapproval. Whatever virtues this state may possess, hipness is not
    one of them. Fred MacMurray may be an admirable paterfamilias and a model of bourgeois
    rectitude, but he will not win the dance contest on Soul Train.

    The Right has a serious fun problem. Like evil runes possessed of a curious power, the words
    carved on the id of every teenager worth her salt -- sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll -- send conservatives
    into a howling, medieval fury.  The inconvenient fact is that all hipness contains a spice of nihilism,
    a tiny but flavorful soupcon of who-gives-a-****, that is anathema to the Right. To the degree that
    conservative writers embrace Cool Style, they simply cease to be conservative.
           -REVIEW : of "Backward and Upward: The New Conservative Writing," edited by David Brooks (GARY KAMIYA, Salon)

That statement is, I suppose, fairly typical of how the Left views conservatives, and may in fact be largely true.  But it misses two extremely salient points : (1) those who do embrace Cool Style cease to be humorous, after all, if you think it's perfectly fine to engage in wildly varied sexual experimentation, then 99% of the jokes ever told in the history of man, particularly those with sheep in them, no longer have punch lines; (2) no the Right isn't out having this sort of fun, we're home with our wives making jokes about the hipster doofuses that think that such behavior makes them cool.  [Recall the hilarious Republican response to Ted Kennedy's 1988 Democratic convention speech, where he used the tagline "Where was George ?"  Answer : Home in bed with Barbara, sober.]  Humor, particularly satirical humor, by its very nature, requires you to take a pretty jaundiced view of humankind; it practically requires the stance of Permanent Moral Disapproval, which Kamiya finds so offensive.  The natural result is that almost all of the humorous political writing in America today is being done by conservatives.  The collection that is panned above, for instance, includes an embarrassment of riches, including Joe Queenan, PJ O'Rourke, Andrew Ferguson, and Christopher Buckley.

Wry Martinis meanwhile is a collection of twenty years worth of the writings of Christopher Buckley--an editor at Forbes FYI, regular contributor to the back page of The New Yorker, former speech writer to Vice President Bush, and the son of William F. Buckley.  The book contains many funny pieces ranging from travel essays to book reviews.  Among the funniest are his NY Times review of Tom Clancy's novel Debt of Honor, which is so scathing that it provoked a mini-feud between the two.  It starts by citing Mark Twain :

    Somewhere, if memory serves, Mark Twain said of one of Henry James's books, "Once you put it
    down, you can't pick it up." "Debt of Honor," the eighth novel in Tom Clancy's oeuvre, is, at 766
    pages, a herniating experience.

And things get really ugly thereafter.  One of Buckley's favorite devices, especially in his New Yorker bits, is to take one seemingly innocent item out of the news and then spin a comedic scenario around it.  Among the factoids that get this treatment :

    * 'They both come to my house.  We serve them a Martini.  And we have an exchange between
        the two.'
            -Tom Brokaw in The New York Times, proposing an alternative presidential-debate format

    *  A group of conservative political operatives is expected to announce today the launching of the
        Conservative TV Network, a 24-hour pay cable-television channel expected to debut in early
            -USA Today

    *  To save money, airlines in the United States are circulating less fresh air into the cabins of many
            -The New York Times

These brief essays are generally very funny, but even better, the modus operandi set him up to perpetrate a terrific hoax.  In  Forbes FYI, he started out a piece with a seemingly similar blurb :

    It has come to our attention through private channels that the Soviet government is preparing to
    make a very unusual, indeed unprecedented, offering : the embalmed remains of V. I. Lenin.

The following fabrication proved so successful that the Soviet government was deluged with bids and Peter Jennings reported, and later angrily retracted, the story on ABC News.

These and the many other pieces make for a truly funny collection.  It belongs on your shelf, in the midst of the collected works of H. L. Mencken, Tom Wolfe, Andrew Ferguson, and P.J. O'Rourke, and the other equally funny curmudgeons who have so masterfully turned the Human Tragedy into a Human Comedy.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Christopher Buckley (3 books reviewed)
Christopher Buckley Links:

    -ESSAY: Another March of Folly? (CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY, February 19, 2003, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of No Way to Treat a First Lady by Christopher Buckley (Robin Vidimos, The Denver Post)

Book-related and General Links:
    -BOOKNOTES : Author: Christopher Buckley Title: Wry Martinis Air Date: May 4, 1997 (CSPAN)
    -Forbes FYI
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter of Little Green Men
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter of God is My Broker
    -ESSAY : All-Terrain Zealotry (Christopher Buckley, 11/26/01, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : Now and Then : What if today's media covered World War II?  (CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY, November 10, 2001, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : Barbara Streisand's Other Letters (Chris Buckley, Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2001)
    -ESSAY : Blind (Drunk) Wine Tasting (Christopher Buckley and P.J. O'Rourke, Forbes FYI, 10.30.99)
    -ESSAY : Wireless Shrugged : How it was in the days of the downtime annihilators (CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY, May 2000, TIME)
    -ESSAY : WASHINGTON MEMOIRS: BOMBSHELL OR BUST (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review, October 1, 1989)
    -ESSAY : Hillary: The Op-Ed  By Hillary Rodham Clinton (as told to Christopher Buckley, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY : Death of the Prince : John F. Kennedy Jr lived his life in a becoming and graceful manner and handled his celebrity well. However, he was not a hero and does not deserve the... (Christopher Buckley, National Review, August 09 1999)
    -ESSAY : Big night for Bush :   Christopher Buckley, Norman Lear, Al Franken, Joe Eszterhas and other critics review Debate 2 (Salon)
    -ESSAY : CONVERSATION : Doing the dragon dance : Welcome to our Internet chat room: Chinese President Jiang  Zemin will now answer the questions of all concerned Hong Kong residents (CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY, US News)
    -ESSAY : Memo  From  Coach (Christopher Buckley, The New Yorker, Jan 1998)
    -ESSAY : The Highest Crime (Christopher Buckley, National Review, Feb 8, 1999)
    -INTERVIEW : A TALK WITH MARK HELPRIN: 'I MAY BE AN ANOMALY' (Christopher Buckley, NY Times, March 25, 1984)
    -REVIEW : of Up in the Air by Walter Kirn (Christopher Buckley, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE INFORMATION By Martin Amis (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE LOVES OF FAUSTYNA By Nina FitzPatrick (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of QUOTATIONS FROM SPEAKER NEWT The Little Red, White and Blue Book of the Republican Revolution. Edited by Amy D. Bernstein  and Peter W. Bernstein  (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of DEBT OF HONOR By Tom Clancy (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE RUSSIAN GIRL By Kingsley Amis (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE LITERARY COMPANION TO SEX An Anthology of Prose and Poetry. Edited by Fiona Pitt-Kethley  (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of BAD Or, the Dumbing of America. By Paul Fussell (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of IN ALL HIS GLORY The Life of William S. Paley: The Legendary Tycoon and His Brilliant Circle  By Sally Bedell Smith (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of FIRST HUBBY  By Roy Blount Jr.  (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of FROM: THE PRESIDENT Richard Nixon's Secret Files. Edited by Bruce Oudes (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of ZERO GRAVITY By Richard Lourie (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE COMPLETE YES MINISTER The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister. By the Right Hon. James Hacker MP. Edited by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Felix in the Underworld By John Mortimer (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The End of the Age By Pat Robertson (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE COLLECTED SHORT FICTION OF BRUCE JAY FRIEDMAN (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of ATLANTIC CIRCLE By Kathryn Lasky Knight (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of FEAR AND LOATHING IN AMERICA The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist, 1968-1976 By Hunter S. Thompson (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE WATER IN BETWEEN A Journey at Sea. By Kevin Patterson (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Gun Seller By Hugh Laurie (Christopher Buckley , NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of It's My Party by Peter Robinson (Christopher Buckley , Washington Monthly)
    -REVIEW : of Monday Morning Quarterback by Jonathan Yardley (Christopher Buckley, Washington Monthly)
    -INTERVIEW : 'God Is My Broker': An Interview with Christopher Buckley (DEBORAH STEAD, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW : with Christopher Buckley (Joe Hartlaub, Book Reporter)
    -INTERVIEW : with Christopher Buckley (at random magazine)
    -INTERVIEW : with Chris Buckley  (JOEL STEIN, TIME)
    -DIALOGUE : When Is It OK To Betray a Friend? (Slate)
    -PROFILE : TRYING TO SMOKE WITH Christopher Buckley; More Huffing Than Puffing (ALEX WITCHEL, NY Times, June 30, 1994)
    -BRIEF PROFILE : What Did You Do in the '60s (Fred Barnes, AEI)
    -ESSAY : Washington Talk; Fiction Mirrors the Loss of Majesty  (E. J. DIONNE Jr., NY Times, April 17, 1989)
    -ARCHIVES : "christopher buckley" (NY Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES : "Christopher Buckley" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "Christopher Buckley" (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW : of Wry Martinis by Christopher Buckley (Ben Macintyre, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Wry Martinis ( Mark Bazer, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW : of Wry Martinis (Gene Alexeyev, The Indicator)
    -REVIEW : of LITTLE GREEN MEN By Christopher Buckley (1999) (Mordechai Richler, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men (National Review)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men (AJ Jacobs,  Entertainment Weekly, April 9, 1999)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men (Justin Torres, The Crisis)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men (Robin Vidimos, The Denver Post )
    -REVIEW :  of Little Green Men (Deirdre Donoghue, USA Today)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men (Scott O'Callaghan,
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men (Erik Spanberg, Creative Loafing)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men (Book Browser)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men (Josh London, American Partisan)
    -REVIEW :  of Little Green Men (Joe Hartlaub, Book Reporter)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men  (Seattle Times, Adam Woog)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men  (Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men  (Peter D. Tillman, SF Site)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men  (Steven E. Alford, Houston Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men  (Craig Offman, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men  (Terry Peters, North Shore News)
    -REVIEW : of Little Green Men (FLORENCE GILKESON, The
    -REVIEW : of GOD IS MY BROKER A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth. By Brother Ty with Christopher Buckley  (1998) (Dwight Garner, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of God is My Broken by Brother Ty and Christopher Buckley (Alix Madrigal, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Thank You for Smoking By Christopher Buckley (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of THANK YOU FOR SMOKING By Christopher Buckley (1994) (Larry Gelbart, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Thank You for Smoking (R.Z. Sheppard, TIME)
    -REVIEW : of Wet Work by Christopher Buckley (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of  WET WORK By Christopher Buckley (1991) (Robert Stuart Nathan, NY Times Book Review)
   -REVIEW : of THE WHITE HOUSE MESS. By Christopher Buckley (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of THE WHITE HOUSE MESS By Christopher Buckley (1986) (NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of "Backward and Upward: The New Conservative Writing," edited by David Brooks (GARY KAMIYA, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Backward and Upward : Prose & Cons : Pens at the ready, conservative writers march forward into the past in a new anthology (Richard von Busack, MetroActive Books)