Buckley reads from ‘Pup’

As he strolled up the aisle toward the front of the Branford College common room Thursday evening, Christopher Buckley ’75 paused at the third row and turned to face a student in the audience.

“Did you finish your homework yet?” Buckley asked John Lesnewich ’13.

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“No, I haven’t done it yet,” Lesnewich replied.

“Then you should probably go back and do it,” Buckley quipped.

Buckley, who returned to Yale after being last year’s Class Day speaker, faced a full house in Branford College as he recounted stories of his relationship with his famous parents in a reading from his new memoir “Losing Mom and Pup.” Throughout the hour-long talk, Buckley shared anecdotes from his father’s last years that illuminated the wit, intellect and private life of an otherwise public figure — William F. Buckley Jr. ’50, who is considered to be the founder of the modern conservative movement.

Buckley’s reading was preceded by an introduction by Anne Fadiman, the Francis Writer-in-Residence, who described Buckley as “a sterling exemplar of both lux and veritas.” She said she believes Buckley’s writing will be best remembered for this most recent book.

In one story, Buckley shared a memory from his graduation: After hopelessly searching for his family among the visitors in the Jonathan Edwards courtyard after the ceremony, Buckley ate his graduation lunch — alone — at Yankee Doodle. Later, Buckley discovered his father had left the diploma presentation soon after his name was called among the other last names beginning with “B” and taken his guests to celebrate at Mory’s — without the graduate in tow.

But throughout the presentation, Buckley’s humorous stories made clear his respect and admiration for his father. In one tale, he and his father went sailing in a gale that caused the declaration of a state of emergency across New England. After returning home, Buckley learned that his mother had been endlessly calling the Coast Guard, who was unable to understand why they had gone sailing in such a storm.

“He took risks,” Buckley explained. “They take risks, the great ones.”

At one point, Buckley proceeded to share a long list of his father’s career accomplishments, which included writing 57 books and a thrice-weekly column, founding a magazine, running for mayor of New York and starting a successful television show. But Buckley quickly followed with a list of his father’s personal qualities, including his energy, friendliness and willingness to help others.

When he was still in college, the elder Buckley flew a friend to Boston to see his girlfriend in his private plane, but forgot about Daylight Savings Time. It was already dark by the time he set out from Boston, so he followed the train tracks to New London, where he landed and then hitchhiked back to New Haven.

“He was the kindest man I knew,” Buckley said of his father.

Though Buckley noted that his father rose to fame with his 1951 book “God and Man at Yale” and its attack on 1950s-era Yale College, he said throughout his father’s entire adult life, he held “an abiding love for Yale.”

Students who attended the event said they appreciated Buckley’s sense of humor as well as his sincere, conversational tone.

Jialu Chen ’11, a student in Fadiman’s writing course last semester who had the opportunity to eat dinner with Buckley before the presentation, said she is a admirer of Buckley’s writing and has found it so engaging that she reads it while running on the treadmill. But to hear him live, she added, was a different experience.

“The comedy really comes through when you hear him talk,” Chen said.

The presentation was part of the ninth annual series of Yale College’s Francis Conversations with Writers and Editors.

Comments

  • WFB Jr.’s kindness

    “Thank you for the dedication and the prose.I’ll pass on the ideas, but two out of three isn’t bad”
    Wm. F. Buckley,Jr.

    In 1981 I sent Mr. Buckley a copy of Holy Smoke, a pamphlet of essays I published at the Divinity School which had this dedication: “To William F. Buckley, Jr. whose writings alerted me that Man is God at Yale”. I enclosed a note saying that if the prose and ideas didn’t please him I hoped the dedication would. His reply appears above, and is an example of the kidness and generosity to others which his son cites.

    Paul Keane
    M.Div. ’80

    PS The masthead of my blog The Anti-Yale makes the same dedication http://theantiyale.blogspot.com

  • Y10

    Anne put it best: Christopher Buckley is indeed nothing short of “a sterling exemplar of both lux and veritas.” Bravo for a witty and entertaining reading.

  • Auntie PK

    Backstabbing carpetbagger barely waited for his progenitor to turn cold before denying his Conservative credentials.

    Bah.

    (Note: Auntie is in the Southern pronunciation.)

  • Yale ’08

    Really enjoyed his speech at ’09 Commencement. Was one of the most brilliant orations in some time… much better than Blair’s vacuous stab at diplomacy in ’08.

  • Murdstonism

    Dear Auntie:
    People aren’t allowed to change their opinions? Sounds like Mr. Murdstone in David Copperfield. The younger Buckley is an intellectual, not a zealot.
    PK

  • Terry Hughes

    William Buckley, Jr., reworked through the taxidermy of his son’s mind into a plush toy. Who would have thought?

    The conceit of loving a manipulated memory, while rejecting the thoughts and beliefs around which his father centered so much of his life. Very Proustian, but not the kind of thing to which that father would have descended.

    So much smoke and mirrors to obscure some obvious facts. Nobody would pay much attention to Chris Buckley if his father had not been William Buckley, Jr. The younger Buckley does not write, and has never written, nearly as well as his father did. Chris Buckley would never had been handed the amazing opportunities he was handed throughout his life (of which he didn’t make that much), but for his father’s accomplishments. To judge by his published work, Chris Buckley has never had an original thought of consequence, again in stark and unflattering contrast to his father. His admirer says of Chris Buckley that “she believes Buckley’s writing will be best remembered for this most recent book,” which is about his father. The son is largely insufferable, and that and the rest seem to be related to Chris Buckley having largely lived the life of a spoiled rich kid from the git go, including his undergraduate years, while his amazing father worked his tail off for things he thought mattered. Things his son doesn’t think matter, but is willing to exploit. Nice.

  • Hieronymus

    Gads! I think I have a brain-crush on Terry Hughes!

  • Old Blue ’73

    @ Terry Hughes:

    What a churlish, useless personal attack. I don’t know Chris personally, though I’ve read much of his and his father’s writing, and I feel a need to come to his defense.

    “The younger Buckley does not write, and has never written, nearly as well as his father did.” Chris might even agree. So what? It’s like running down Prof. Kai Erikson because he’s not as accomplished as his father Erik. (Try google if you don’t know about them.)

    “Chris Buckley would never had been handed the amazing opportunities he was handed throughout his life … but for his father’s accomplishments.” The same could be said for WFB, Jr.

    What’s it to you if Chris does not share what you must see as the pure conservatism of his father? I suspect that he does not take himself nearly as seriously as you do. And he probably learned from his father that an ability to laugh at oneself is admirable.

    In my view, Chris has produced some deliciously satirical works, particularly “Thank You for Smoking” and the more recent “Supreme Courtship”.

    Your apparent view that Chris should spend his life grinding the same axes his father did is ridiculous.

  • Hieronymus

    @#8

    I did not take that from TH’s comments; I thought his main point was that Chis Buckley’s talents do not rise to his notoriety.

    Also: even *I* do not demand adherence to a father’s political ideology; I merely dislike the rapidity and completeness of the post-mortem change of tune.

    No one could “replace” WFB, but nor should a lifetime free-loader get to ride the giant’s coattails and expect to be free from criticism when, reflected glory having done what it can, the beneficiary becomes turncoat ASAP.

    No matter. Chris Buckley will fade fast now, with no lasting impact on this nation, this college.

  • Terry Hughes

    @ #8

    So you’re “Old Blue?” Who died and made you the Spirit of Yale? I won’t complain since it’s poetic that the nom pour l’ombrage of one who defends a career opportunistic appropriator of his father’s mantle itself opportunistically appropriates the mantle of our common school. But why stop when by equally rude yet striking art the tribal image of many Yale heroes and heroines of antiquity could be co-opted to hang from your girdle? I’ll pass on your brand of preemptory Google condescension, if it’s OK with you, and show you enough respect to assume you get the reference.

    Your comparison to Kai Erikson is pointlessly offensive to him. Did he once take your parking space or the like? Anyway, he has not based a good part of his career on being Erik Erikson’s son, nor has he played a public game of simultaneously repudiating most of the ideas his father deemed most important while pretending to a priestly role in construing texts his father helped create. But take a look at Chris’s current Daily Beast column (“Quit Redefining Conservatism”), where he purports to speak ex cathedra about his father’s Sharon Statement, while getting it deeply wrong. If you make the trip, take the tour and check out his uncredited appropriation of the old New Yorker witticism (“Block that metaphor!”) and his banal incorporation of cliché’s from Al Gore (“inconvenient truth”) to Seinfeld (“yadda-yadda”) and so much else. Perhaps the saddest thing is the delusion that anything here will “make Brent grind his molars.” But then, who would read the sloppy text of that column if it weren’t written by WFB, Jr.’s very own 57 year old son?

    Yes, we know it COULD be said that WFB, Jr. would never had been handed the amazing opportunities he was handed throughout his life but for his father’s accomplishments, since you just had the cojones azules viejos to say it! Many such absurd things are said and believed every day. Just ask the White Queen. But saying and believing such nonsense doesn’t change the fact that WFB, Jr. was a genius of the first rank, arguably the most important public intellectual in the United States in half of the 20th Century, who redefined American conservatism (Chris apparently forgot that in his column) and for an entire generation was the preeminent voice of and its first great ecumenical figure, and who NEVER “ground axes.” (You say you’ve read his works?)

    Nor does anything change the facts that his son is a minor novelist and composer of journeyman magazine occasional pieces who delivered not one memorable line during the entire time he was chief White House speech writer, but who gets invited to speak at Yale Commencement, anyway. Guess why. Times up!

    Also, what Hieronymus said.

  • Billseph Jones

    But too bad Buckley doesn’t care for the new admissions video. In the New Yorker, he says OMFG and pours himself a stiff drink! So he can’t be THAT cool!!!

  • Old F*rt ’73

    @ Hughes:
    Is that better. The notion I consider myself the Spirit of Yale is as laughable to me as it would be to my classmates. I was an Inslee Clark public school interloper from the Midwest. It was a whimsical choice when I picked it but anyone reading it as you did convinces me to pick something else.

    So who made you keeper of the WFB, Jr. flame? My Erikson analogy was intended to point out that your criticism of Buckley was pointlessly offensive. What did CB do to you? Why do you care?

  • Terry Hughes

    @ #12 (“Old F*rt”, nee #8, “Old Blue”)

    “Why do you care?” Ah, the many faces of the intentional fallacy. Mais, mon enfant, je réponds sans se soucier!

    As with absolutely everyone else without exception, I care because and only because CB is WFB, Jr.’s very own son.

    In truth, Old Blue, or Old F*rt, or Haddock’s Eyes, or Aged, Aged Man, or Ways and Means, or whatever else you’re calling yourself these days, any notion of what you consider yourself to be at all is of no exceptional interest to me. My observation concerned your poetic name.

    I keep no flames, although I cannot help but notice you flame a bit here. Class of ’73 is it? Evidence there has, in fact, not been grade inflation at Yale. What a relief.