It's sometimes difficult, in our current quagmire of blogs and declining bylines, to remember that great journalists and critics still slog along daily, weekly, monthly. The golden era of American criticism may be behind us (here's hoping it's not), and maybe Edmund Wilson didn't have it so easy anyway, but one can still regularly find new and often astounding pieces from James Wolcott, Cynthia Ozick, Jed Perl, George Packer, James Wood, Joyce Carol Oates, Paul Berman, Jonathan Lethem, and others. Even old stalwarts like Stanley Kauffman still inspire (and for those interested in lighter fare, there are literati pinup boys like Adam Gopnik and Malcolm Gladwell). Among the intelligentsia, however, this year belonged to British expat (and new American citizen) Christopher Hitchens.
Fueled by cigarettes, alcohol, ego, and, most importantly, intellect, Hitchens employs his excoriating eye in his Vanity Fair column, television appearances, and what's quickly becoming his very own nonfiction canon. The only thing more surprising than the abundance of his output is his sheer audacity. After alienating pretty much every leftist in the country with his vociferous support for Bush's invasion of Iraq, he dropped God Is Not Great, the most cogent condemnation of religion in recent memory, onto the number-one slot of the New York Times best-seller list and earned himself a National Book Award nomination in the process. Far from the vitriolic diatribe of a God-hating misanthrope like Richard Dawkins, Hitchens's work is both appropriately respectful and right.
Meanwhile, Hitchens has managed to plumb the full emotional spectrum in his Vanity Fair column. In the last three months alone, he's written both a truly devastating piece about a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq and a divinely droll two-parter about the cult of self-improvement. In the latter, he coined the term "courting tackle," thereby offering the best-ever euphemism for male junk (no small feat, mind you). For any great writer, after all, the devil is in the details.
Emily Condon is a freelance writer and former programmer of the Oak Street Cinema.