Recommended Reading

Christopher Hitchens is pitch perfect on the restored edition of Ernest Hemingway’s classic A Moveable Feast, a book I discovered at exactly the right age, and in precisely the right place. The one anecdote I wish he’d retold is when Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald are driving a car through the countryside toward Paris. As he recounts the story, Hemingway keeps referring to the bottles of wine they’d consumed, until he looks beside him, sees Fitzgerald is bombed, and says something about how he couldn’t ever fathom how a grown man could be drunk off two mere bottles of wine. Surprisingly, Mr. Hitchens endorses Papa Hemingway’s dictum to “stop working while you still have something left to write the next day.” Given his output, I find it hard to imagine Mr. Hitchens ceasing work or running out of things to write.

I’ve got two additional offerings today, both written by professors I had the good fortune to study under at New York University. Mark Oppenheimer taught a class on religion writing. His Slate piece explores why he attends synagogue with his young daughter each week, despite being an atheist “about half the time.” It’s also worth reading Rod Dreher’s followup post, and Mark’s pointed response. I love that Mark so often engages his critics after he writes a piece, and Rod is a good interlocutor—it’s the rare blog back and forth where both positions are clarified, and the reader is still left with the question, “What does it mean to be serious about religion?”

Katie Roiphe, the best persuasive writing teacher I’ve ever had, pens a piece for Slate’s new Double X magazine criticizing — wait, it’s Katie, I meant excoriating — women who use their child’s photo as their Facebook picture. Though some of you might imagine yourself to be utterly uninterested in that topic, she is so talented a polemicist that she carries the piece off anyway. What I love about Katie’s writing is her ability to push her argument as far as it could possibly go — she drags the reader along, and just when she’s about to lose you, she abruptly and succinctly raises the very objection that would’ve turned you away if she hadn’t anticipated it.

And having done so, she pushes some more.