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Christopher Buckley: “Brazen liar, international provocateur”
By Kyle Blaine
Published Oct. 19, 2010. 814 views
Satirist Christopher Buckley used humor and political wit to deliver a speech to students last night about coming up with a good book title in a competitive market.
“Anyone care to guess how many different books are published in this country each year?” Buckley asked. “Four-hundred thousand, and half of them by John Grisham. The remaining are novels about teen vampires. ”
Buckley, whose book “Thank You for Smoking” was adapted into a major motion picture, went through a list of possible book titles and the stories behind them during the 45-minute speech in the Student Life Center Ballroom.
One suggested title, “Want to Buy a Dead Dictator?”, was based on a hoax story that Buckley had written in Forbes magazine about the cash-strapped Russians auctioning off Vladimir Lenin’s corpse for $15 million. According to Buckley, the story went much further than he had intended.
“I was exercising at home, and the late Peter Jennings came on the evening news, and a picture of Lenin’s embalmed corpse came up on the screen,” Buckley said. “I was like, ‘Holy shit.’”
The Russians responded by calling Buckley a “brazen liar” and an “international provocateur.”
Buckley also touched on his experiences as the chief speechwriter for then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, whom Buckley referred to as the “good Bush.”
“Whenever Bush would speak outside the beltway, he liked to start his speeches with the line ‘It’s great to be in (location of speech), speaking to the real America.’ We were in Toronto and I forgot to take that line out,” Buckley said. “The Canadians were real pleased by that one.”
At the end of the event, Buckley, who is the son of the late National Review founder and conservative author William F. Buckley, spoke about the current political climate.
“People are more comfortable staying in their political silos. They want to be affirmed rather than have their ideas challenged,” Buckley said.
Students reacted positively to the event, which was sponsored by the Vanderbilt University Speakers Committee and was part of Buckley’s tour for his most recent book, “Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir.”
“It was good. It was very witty and even-sided,” said freshman Winston Davis.
“I loved his Kissinger impressions, and the Scottish accent was great. This is why I came to Vanderbilt University, to see great speakers like this,” said sophomore Andrew Rose.
The Speakers Committee, which had been trying to get Buckley to speak at the university for over a year, considered the night a success.
“I think it was a nice night. (Buckley) was very personable and funny, and I think he surprised the audience with his ability to make us laugh,” said Speakers Committee member Michael Feldman.
During an interview with the Hustler after the event, Buckley offered a message for the students at Vanderbilt.
“Try to keep your mind open and well-ventilated. Don’t be afraid (of) opposing points of view and just have your arguments well-thought out and ready,” Buckley said. “You shouldn’t be afraid of ideas.”