Monday, February 02, 2015

But Enough About You by Christopher Buckley

It's hard not to be self-satisfied when you're well-off and on the far end of middle age, with a successful career and a good-sized file of press clippings, all filled with people saying flattering things about you. And you might not want to avoid it entirely, particularly if your schtick is to satirize the rich and powerful: got to know your targets, after all.

Christopher Buckley is all of those things and more: son of the noted William F., repeatedly bestselling satirical novelist (Thank You for Smoking and a number of other books almost as good), long-time editor of Forbes FYI, and occasional essayist. And he does get self-satisfied a few times in the course of But Enough About You, his second major book of collected essays -- after 1997's Wry Martinis. The self-satisfaction mostly comes in when he's talking about his travels, which he presents as sumptuous and indulgent, and often in the company of a woman he calls Peaches, who may or may not be his wife.

Buckley seems a bit too happy and contented to be a really strong non-fictional satirist, which may also be why his novels have tended to have happy, dullish endings for the last decade or so. The satirist's calling is cruelty and malice, and Buckley perhaps has now had too many of the good things in life -- and too thoughtful and wide a view, considering this cradle reactionary famously endorsed Obama in 2008 -- to really thrill at plunging the knife in the way a top-notch satirist should.

But Enough About You isn't satire, most of the time: some of it is humor, of a fairly gentle stripe, and some of it is travelogue, and some of it is memoir, in a small way. But most of it is the equivalent of blogging -- short essays written to a deadline, to appear in a regular column (most often Forbes FYI) about something-or-other happening in his life and/or the world at that moment. "Essays" is a bit grand for that form, admittedly, though the book also contains a number of more traditionally essay-shaped objects. (It's nearly 450 pages, so it has room to contain all sorts of things -- all or most of the short non-fiction of the past two decades that Buckley wants to save.)

Like all books of shorter pieces, it suffers if read straight through, so don't do that. If you want a big wodge of Buckley fils at once, try Thank You for Smoking -- or Little Green Men, if you've already read the obvious one. But Enough About You should be read in dribs and drabs, as you're ready to check back in with Buckley and Peaches and Buckley's children and the joys of France and something not unadjacent to national politics and a myriad of other things. And it will provide a fair bit of entertainment and humor if you do so.

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