At Christopher Hitchens' death, I recall in some amazement how much of his work I've read. Before completing his memoirs, "Hitch-22," I regularly read his columns in Vanity Fair and the online magazine Slate, as well as collections of his essays. I first started reading him years ago in "the Nation," when he was an unalloyed member of the left. I've also read some of his other books, such as his appreciation of Orwell.
Reading his book reviews for the Atlantic in his recently released volume of collected essays, I return to my earlier opinion that he was at his best writing about literature, although he perhaps was better known as a political and social polemicist. Although he never wrote fiction or poetry, or at least published any, he possessed as a critic a perception of imaginative writers' purposes and how well they accomplished them.
At times in his political writing, I felt he was a fraud, a charlaton with opinions a bit too glibly stated. He was always, though, an engaging writer who challenged thought, an examinatioin of my own opinions and conceptions. I liked his swaggering, wise-guy personality. His takedowns of Mother Teresa, Kissinger and Bill Clinton remain in my memory, bolstering my skepticism and natural propensity to shun idols.
His final writings gave excruciating details about the progress of the cancer that killed him. A final piece in the current Vanity Fair vividly renders the pain and humiliation of a terminal patient. It reads like great fiction, making me wish that he had written novels and short stories.
He dies at 62, the same age my father died of cancer nearly 30 years ago. Hard to imagine the world of thought and language without Hitchens' distinctive voice.