Ya se ha dicho que al reseñar un libro la descripción de su contenido, la cita de sus pasajes más representativos y un estilo personal son claves del oficio crítico y de ese pequeño género que es la reseña literaria. Michael Dirda, ensayista, periodista y crítico literario, escribió en The Times Literary Supplement un ensayo crítico sobre Arguably (Twelve, 2011), la colección de ensayos de Christopher Hitchens en los que el gran polemista, fallecido recientemente, transgrede aquellas reglas (como Orwell y otros grandes book reviewers). Para Hitchens, los libros que revisa son pretextos, artefactos para disparar ideas, debates y pensamientos propios. Nos dice Dirda:
I t could never be said that Christopher Hitchens, who died on December 15, hid his light under a bushel. Yet there’s also no denying that this polymathic journalist and intellectual was himself a source of light, sometimes even sweetness and light, though his work generally revelled in the blazing illumination of the wrongs, failings and misjudgements of others. For more than forty years he was a flail and a scourge, but also a gift to readers everywhere.
While many of the more than 100 pieces collected in Arguably, an oversized, magnificent and sometimes exasperating volume, might be reckoned book reviews, they aren’t really. Description and quotation, supported by personal stylishness, lie at the heart of true reviewing. But, in these pages, Hitchens doesn’t so much review books as exploit them. Description and quotation, supported by personal stylishness, lie at the heart of true reviewing. They are, to borrow I. A. Richards’s phrase, machines to think with. When he quotes, it isn’t to illustrate a book’s particular quiddity but to advance an argument of his own or to pillory perceived deficiencies in its style or logic. To have one’s work “reviewed” by Christopher Hitchens was invariably a mixed blessing, since he frequently conveys the impression that he himself could have done a much better job and that he, in fact, knows the subject in far greater depth than the obviously well-meaning but just slightly deficient author. When Hitchens does pass out compliments, they tend to be briefly adjectival, along the lines of “fine” or “brilliant”, conveying a slightly episcopal mixture of approbation and condescension.
Hitchens’s range of interests is nonetheless astonishing, even breathtaking. Of Anglo- American literature and history since the eighteenth century, there is little that has escaped his gimlet eye. This volume alone – there are four previous collections of essays – includes substantial pieces on Jefferson, Franklin, John Brown, Lincoln, Mark Twain, Upton Sinclair, John F. Kennedy, Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike and Gore Vidal. And that’s just in the American-themed first section…