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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription: Notes and Asides from National ReviewPM » User review

Entertaining, personal, and worth returning to

  • Apr 23, 2008
With the publication of the wonderful Florence King's Stet, Damnit! in 2003 and WFB's "Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription" in 2007, National Review books are breaking new ground in the use of profanity in titles. Which is not a field in which I would have expected them to show such leadership. But since we have Buckley's own assurance in these pages (page 33, to be precise) that "goddam," as used, is profane but not blasphemous, sensitive readers should not be troubled.

William F. Buckley's books can be categorized, broadly, in two ways: books of conservative theory and practice (his collected columns, The Unmaking of a Mayor, etc.), and what could be termed personal indulgences (Overdrive: A Personal Documentary, the spy novels, and so on). This book is unquestionably an indulgence, and people who have little patience for Buckley and his well-established personality and voice will probably find this book, as they found him, infuriating. But for those of us who had great respect for the man and enjoyed watching him perform (no slight intended by use of that word), even when we may have disagreed with him, "Cancel Your Own..." is a joy to read and a foretaste of how much we will miss him in the future.

As the subtitle indicates, "Cancel Your Own..." is made up of excerpts and highlights from WFB's long-running "Notes and Asides" column in NR. The book, like N&A itself, included selected correspondence, sent and received, memoranda, and other comments and exchanges WFB considered worth sharing with a wider audience. As you'd expect from a collection he assembled himself (with the help of researchers acknowledged in the text), it shows Buckley at his best, whether smacking down a critic with airy ease, refusing to tolerate misquotation or mistranslation, or simply conducting internal or external business.

While personal favorites of mine include his ukase on the use of the serial comma, exchanges with Eric Alterman, and a magnificent letter from my hero Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn listing no fewer than 20 errors or linguistic or cultural solecisms in Buckley's Who's on First: A Blackford Oakes Mystery most any Buckley fan will be able to come up with their own list. On the other hand, Art Buchwald's strange obsession with Hertz rental cars, which he apparently thought was funny and about which he wrote WFB frequently, I found merely tiresome.

As many of his recent obituaries noted, WFB seems to have recognized in his final years that the rightist movement he did so much to create was already in its own final years and was being replaced by a very different kind of "conservatism." So much of Buckley's work now is mostly of historic interest (who reads Four Reforms: A Program for the Seventies or United Nations Journal: A Delegate's Odyssey for contemporary relevance any more?). Perhaps ironically, it's now those "indulgences" that draw us most strongly. I think "Cancel Your Own..." is a book people will keep returning to, and justly so.

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Andrew S. Rogers ()
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About this book


Four decades of William F. Buckley Jr.'s famous (and infamous) wit in a volume that will be the political gift book of the season.

Who knew that William F. Buckley Jr., the quintessential conservative, invented the blog decades before the World Wide Web came into existence? National Review, like nearly all magazines, has always published letters from readers. In 1967 the magazine decided that certain letters merited different treatment, and Buckley, the editor, began a column called "Notes & Asides," in which he personally answered the most notable and outrageous letters.

The selections in this book, culled from four decades of these columns, include exchanges with such figures as Ronald Reagan, Eric Sevareid, Richard Nixon, A. M. Rosenthal, Auberon Waugh, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. There are also hilarious exchanges with ordinary readers, as well as letters from Buckley to various organizations and government agencies.

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ISBN-10: 0465002420
ISBN-13: 978-0465002429
Author: William F. Buckley Jr.
Publisher: Basic Books

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