Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Review: HOLIDAYS IN HECK

It's hard to convey the excitement I felt when I saw Holidays in Heck on the "New Books" shelf at the library recently. P.J. O'Rourke has been one of my favorite authors for over two decades. I have an O'Rourke shelf in the mini-bookcase on my computer desk. When I was younger, and when I first started this blog, the two writers I most tried to emulate were O'Rourke and HST; O'Rourke's sense of humor is one of the finest the English language has ever produced, and even some of his less noteworthy projects in his career still had some side-splitting asides and silly scenes that defy the reader not to laugh out loud. O'Rourke reminds me not to take politics too seriously; he is as adept at skewering left-leaning politicos as anyone since Mencken and Rogers, but is well aware of the absurdities of those on his side of the aisle and doesn't spare them when they have ridicule coming. And underneath the joker's suit is a real level of insight a surprising amount of the time. My views on the Arab-Israeli conflict, to take one example, were forever altered by O'Rourke's reporting from the occupied territories two decades ago, with the immortal summing up, after viewing the indignities the Palestinians went through on a daily basis, "This is barbarism. This is bullshit. I've covered a lot... and there is no excuse for this kind of civilian-hammering by the police." O'Rourke is the closest our generation has produced to a Mencken; an unapologetic hedonist and curmudgeon whose innate sense of decency does peek through enough to take a stand against nonsense of all stripes.
This book is promoted as a sequel to Holidays in Hell, his late-1980's masterpiece of reporting from some of the world's then-hottest spots. It is a collection of reedited and largely rewritten pieces he has written for various publications over the last decade of alleged "fun spots." Some are hilarious--such as skiing in Ohio, trips to Hong Kong, and a horseback ride across Kyrgyzstan (how many other words have the -yz spelling?). Some aren't as funny, but still are fairly informative. O'Rourke married rather late (I think it's a second marriage, actually) and has three children younger than mine, which is also a source of ongoing amusement as they grew over the decade, as he struggles with raising school-age children while crossing sixty years of age himself. And when he wants to be, he can still be devastatingly accurate in his assessments of politics and politicians--no one but no one has ever been more accurate about the shortcomings of the Clintons, for example, and his throwaway lines in 2008 about the presidential race that year alone are worth the price of the book.
In short, this book, although not quite at the level of  Holidays in Hell or Give War a Chance, is still a worthy addition to the canon. I intend to purchase this book as soon as it is in paperback.

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