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SOME PICK a book by its cover. I’ve been known to pick them by their titles. And so it was with Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription, a sentiment I’d rate as every magazine editor’s dream response.
I think of Bill Buckley (1925-2008) foremost as an eastern intellectual and wit, a harpsichordist, a writer of spy novels—the Blackford Oakes series—and as the guiding light of the conservative National Review magazine, which he founded in 1955.
The book collects elements of the “Notes & Asides” column of WFB, as he was known during his editorship of NR. Though I’m focusing here on its humor, the book also shares serious correspondence with the likes of John Kenneth Galbraith, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Regardless of one’s political views, it makes entertaining reading.
And many of the exchanges are laugh-out-loud hoots, as shown in this one, abbreviated but I hope still retaining the spirit.
Dear Mr. Buckley,
My name is Tish Willis and I am a 14-year-old girl. Many people think I am weird because I like you. I don’t think so. I am perhaps your greatest fan! … My social studies teacher who is pro-Humphrey … said “Who would you like to see in the White House, out of anybody?” There were typical answers such as McCarthy, Lindsay and then I said “William Buckley.” Half the class said “Who’s he?” (They’re so dumb!) And the other half laughed. So did my teacher…. Do you think we should lower the voting age? I am against it. I think it should be raised to 25. If I seem a bit garrulous, I will stop writing, but could you please, maybe, write back?
Dear Tish: I think you should be allowed to vote, but not the other girls in your class, and certainly not your teacher. Love, WFB
As shown by the following, other letters from young people left Buckley a tad gun-shy:
Dear Mr. Buckley:
I am a first grader. Teacher reads NR to us every day after nap time. The man who wrote from Antarctica said he was polarized.
Does this mean he was bit by a polar bear on the ice?
Dear Jimmy: If you are a first-grader, I will eat your teacher.—WFB
Here’s one that challenges with cold, hard logic:
You are the mouthpiece of that evil rabble that depends on fraud, perjury, dirty tricks, anything at all that suits their purposes.
I would trust a snake before I would trust you or anybody you support.
Dear Mr. Ruesthe: What would you do if I supported the snake? Cordially, WFB
Another bit of hate mail, abridged:
I read your column in the [New York] Post and have clipped the same to place it among my memorabilia of some of your paranoic writings.
This one hits the lowest rung. You are a hateful un-Christian demagogue…. I don’t know whether the Lord should damn or save your little frightened cringing soul. Have you no concern or pity? Sometime say something nice.
Carl E. Jampel
New York, N.Y.
Dear Mr. Jampel: I love sugar, I love tea. I love the girls, and the girls love me. Best, WFB
On a purely personal note:
Dear Mr. Buckley:
What is a well-read, red-white-and-blueblooded conservative bachelor to do when he finally falls in love, but with an intractable bleeding-heart liberal? Can love truly conquer all, even ignorance?
Brett M. Decker
Royal Oak, Mich.
Dear Mr. Decker: Well…er, just how ignorant? Can she read? Advise. Cordially, WFB
And, last, the letter prompting the wonderful title:
Three cheers to Dr. Ross Terrill. He slashed you to bits as you have been doing to yourself for the past year. Cancel my subscription.
Wm. W. Morris
Green Valley, Ariz.
Dear Mr. Morris: Cancel your own goddam subscription. Cordially, WFB
And cordially, ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012
Dennis, a wonderful post. One wonders how often Buckley signed off with love, as he did with Tish from Baltimore. (As a native “baltimoron”, I thought he was kind not to warn her of the futility of conservatism in Maryland.)
That caricature threw me for a second, then brought a grin. In fact, Buckley slouching in that chair was a living caricature. How I miss Firing Line, and that stirring introduction/call to battle. So back to the (Amazon) video library I went to watch two favorites one more time . . . Buckley interviewing a young Thomas Sowell. It doesn’t get any better.