Love him or hate him, William F. Buckley has led a charmed, interesting and productive life. His book, Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription, Notes and Asides from National Review, plunges the reader into the author’s experiences by way of letters, commentary and memos related to his work at the iconic conservative magazine Buckley founded in 1955.
Reading the book is akin to surfing a Web site sans links. Some of the letters from readers are reproduced in typography that looks like a typewriter font. The text arrangement is punchy, with ample spacing. I felt at times as though I were rummaging a desk in someone else’s office. Buckley offers the reader a front row seat on exchanges with the likes of Art Buchwald, the late presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, Evelyn Waugh and many other individuals from different backgrounds. In addition the NR founder and long-time editor also known for his enduring TV show ‘Firing Line’ argues points of grammar with staff members, creates fanciful explanations for once erring when he quoted Shakespeare, and counsels students who wrote admiring messages to him. For writers, the dialog about prepositions, commas and style points will amuse and in some cases, inform.
The book is often laugh-out-loud funny. There is a letter from Charlton Heston wherein he pretends to be God. In one letter written in 1986, Lee Wasserman of Cleveland, Ohio, asks why is [Libyan dictator, Mohammar] Qaddafi … “only a colonel?” Buckley replied, “Maybe because Colonel Qaddafi shot all the generals?”
A reader comes away realizing that much of what Americans complain about today is almost identical to what we complained about 50 years ago. It may come as a surprise to many that complaints have endured, such as the federal government overstepping its bounds, conflicts and antipathy between liberals and conservatives, national defense, errors in media reportage, and the high price of oil. Considering National Review cranked up printing presses before color television sets and microwave ovens, I came to the conclusion our complaints will probably endure for another half century at least.
Even Buckley’s critics must acknowledge his wit and intellect. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about politics, history and literature, for a no-holds-barred look at a man who has become an American institution, beloved by true conservatives, admired by libertarians, and feisty enough to still draw criticism (and on occasion, figurative blood) from liberals. It's worth the price of the book alone to read the letter of praise from none other than Dan Rather. Until I read that, I thought I'd seen it all.