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VINE VOICEon April 29, 2009
I usually cringe when I see that an author has decided to read his book. Writing is such a solitary task, and while research and other ancillary endeavors involved in writing are interesting, most authors cannot, for any length of time, read their own books well. This isn't always true, you have ones like Jean Sheppard or John Le Carre doing such a great job, others try. With Christopher Buckley, you get a good reader, who, because of his slight tongue-in-cheek manner sometimes, one wonders where I got that from, makes the book more humorous than the subject, losing ones parents, would normally be.

For me, LOSING MUM AND PUP: A MEMOIR stands as a testament to his parents, William F. and Patricia Buckley, and as such it is also a testament of himself: his parents were grand people standing on the grand stage of life, and while he has a certain amount of notoriety in the publishing world, he lives in shadows of them somewhat, especially his father.

With LOSING MUM AND PUP: A MEMOIR, their only son, Christopher, has given us, in this case the listener or reader, an excellent account of what he went through when he lost both of his parents within a year. This account, while perhaps too personal for some, is nonetheless honest and forthright. It speaks of the flaws of the author as much, if not more, than the subjects of his writing, his parents. And, what I find so remarkable was how his loss was so much more expressive when the words sometime came out of his mouth somewhat reluctantly, often skating to the edge of quivering (in the audio version), but never quite doing so, at certain points, such as reading his father's letter to others after his mother's passing.

I only knew William F. Buckley through his writings, his guest appearances on the talk shows and his interview show "Firing Line." In everything he did, he tackled serious subjects with tenacity and wit, and just when it looked as if the person he was talking to or interviewing was going to get a valid point-in, Mr. Buckley would open his mouth, touch the tip of his tongue to his top lip and say something, usually very economically, that would shoot down the other's point as if it was a clay pigeon hit by both shots of a double-barreled shotgun...>BAM< Got you!

As for Patricia Taylor Buckley, she was just as remarkable. She had to be because Bill and she were married for 57 dull-free years, and while this book deals with her passing, too, it is with the loss of William F. that we learn as much about the son as we do the father.

For Christopher dealt and interacted with his father as his health declined, like many caught in this situation, you witness a week-to-week, sometimes day-to-day, deterioration in what they can do, what they can remember, and in how they treat you. You learn as much about Christopher as you do his father, as William F. Buckley goes through the whole Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stages of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and experience his exasperation, at times.

In closing, let me say there are some who may feel that Christopher has done a "hatchet" job on his parents, or he did a disservice to them by telling us as much as he did. I disagree with those readers. In my eyes, he has given us a glimpse into the wonderful lives of his parents, and a understanding of what a person, in this case an only son, goes through when he becomes an "orphan" within a year. How he deals with his dad is similar to what many children have had to deal with when a parent, especially a parent who pretty much got their own way before, is dying. Only, in this case, instead of ones sister or a cousin calling you to hear how ones parent is doing, you have Henry Kissinger calling to say, "I miss your reports (on your father's health)." With that message, you realize even further that William F. Buckley was no normal man with normal friends).

If you can, buy the audio version, but if you cannot, or do not have the time or facilities to listen to the audio version, buy the book. If you have enjoyed William F. Buckley in the past, you will enjoy hearing or reading about him through the eyes of his son. And, if you haven't read anything else my Christopher Buckley, this book will, like it did for me, encourage you to read this other works (I am on my second, of what I hope are many more).
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on January 21, 2016
Christopher Buckley's memoir is actually three stories in one. While his main vehicle is the year in which he lost both of his parents, we also are given a fascinating look at a true "lion in winter," as we see the author's father, founding father of the modern American conservative movement and, inarguably, a great man, rapidly lose his health and emotional moorings in the wake of his beloved wife's death. Finally, we are invited into earlier, brighter moments of the marriage and family. The author's ability to write humorously has been well-established and his wit is on display in this book with a number of laugh-out-loud passages. The book maintains a light tone while still managing very effectively to be candid, poignant and heartbreaking. If the reader is a Buckley fan, and I revere both Christopher's father and grandfather, the memoir is an invitation to intimacy with one's hero. It is also an entrancing look at the haute lifestyle of the Manhattan rich and famous. I thoroughly enjoyed it and then bought copies to give as Christmas gifts for two of my very best friends. Highly recommended.
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on September 2, 2016
Unfortunately, Christipher Buckley comes off as s bit of a conceited name dropper in this memoir. Furthermore, I don't understand why he decided to forgive his parents - for what? They gave him a great life! Why didn't he have the courage to confront his mother when she embarrassed him with her behavior at meals? He always chose to write her a letter instead of speaking to her face to face. He's not a particularly good husband either, having had an illegitimate child during his marriage. He's intelligent and humorous, but his faulty character keeps getting in the way and hurts what otherwise could have been an exceptional book about being brought up by famous parents.
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on March 4, 2017
A look back on American aristocracy blog comments vote down to the predicament and looters the predicament and being an important u Yuri
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on March 17, 2017
A bit repetitious
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on March 6, 2010
Loved it - smart, kind, knowing... a great book about becoming 'an orphan.' And a great story about his family.
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on June 27, 2014
Excellent memoir, and very revealing, although Christopher does hold back and admits it--especially details about his mother. Great insight into this family and very hard to read what WFB was like near the end.
Another great book about the family was written by WFB Jr's sister Carol.
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on May 29, 2009
Christopher Buckley's "Losing Mum and Pup" joins Philip Roth's "Patrimony," Geoffrey Wolff's "Duke of Deception," and Alexander Waugh's "Fathers and Sons" (there are a number of other examples) as a masterpiece of the contemporary parent genre. Is there a happier way to grieve than to write a book?
His loving memoir of two difficult parents, the account at times hilariously funny, at times outrageously irreverential, draws his outsize father and mother, Bill and Pat Buckley with the eye of a portraitist uniquely in a position to know.
Both parents were at times difficult for Christopher Buckley. As his mother comatose lay dying, he said, "I forgive you." Much as Geoffrey Wolff lovingly said, "Thank God," when informed of his father's death.
What is so interesting is that the very style of his parents is reflected in the style of the portrait. The account is breezy but incisive reminiscent of his mother. One can almost hear her saying, "Pul-eeze, excuse me while I go out and buy a Stradivarius" in parrying some filial jeremiad. The outside-the-box thinking is vintage Bill Buckley. I paraphrase: "I wanted to tell each eulogist at my mother's memorial service at the Temple of Dendur that I had snipers hidden in the Temple with orders to shoot if any exceeded four minutes." Who, but a Buckley, thinks like that? It's what makes them so exasperatingly delightful. You can almost see the arched eyebrows. The ideation is of a piece with the father's famous quip during the 1965 New York City Mayoral election. "What will you do if you win, Mr. Buckley?" "Demand a recount."
The book particularly resonanted with me since, like Christopher Buckley, I am an only child who in his fifties lost both parents (mother first) within a year of each other. The author, like me, accepts the profound sense of loss in being orphaned in such a short time.
So I was moved to tears as he writes something like, "In my dreams they are still looking after me, and I am orphaned no more." Or as Fitzgerald put it, "So we beat on, boats against the current...." It is all about memory, isn't it? Christopher Buckley has forced himself to remember and write about it. In this there is catharsis, hope and the expression of deep and abiding love.
A must read!
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on May 6, 2009
For all right thinking persons in America, William F. Buckley was an icon. He was a gifted, eloquent writer whose political and philosophical analytical skills were unsurpassed in the 20th century. His death last year was a huge loss that was recognized by public figures from across the political spectrum.

After all, when the leftist octogenarian George McGovern makes an immense physical effort to fly across the country to attend the conservative Buckley's memorial service (in Saint Patrick's Cathedral of course), it says something about the esteem that the arch conservative had gathered from the political elite of his time - whatever their philosophical point of view.

Now Buckley's only son, Christopher Buckley, has come forth with a memoir of both his father and his mother in a book that clearly carries the Buckley stamp: LOSING MUM AND PUP: A MEMOIR is stylish, insightful and the prose comes across like some sad but lyrical adagio.

There is, however, good and bad news about this book

The good news: LOSING MUM AND PUP is at once an amusing and a very, very well written book, something one would expect from the son of the erudite William F. Buckley. For Christopher, Bill Buckley was the dominant influence in his life. Even though they had their difficulties, the elder Buckley was clearly a mentor to "Christo" (his father'snickname for his son) and when the young Buckley set off on his own in the real, grown-up world, he became a writer, just like his father.

The bad news: This book probably tells a lot more than his parents might have wished. Young Buckley (figuratively speaking -- after all, as he was 56 years of age on publication of this book) takes on both his mother and his father in a manner where no holds are barred. The son writes that his father was not only a brilliant writer, he was a dominating father whose weaknesses (impatience, a domineering manner and an unfortunate reliance on alcohol and pills) had an adverse impact on their relationship.

The two were close but not totally harmonious. The young Buckley describes any number of instances when his Dad causes him both pain and disappointment. The disappointments have been so many that at the end of the elder Buckley's life, when Christo cancels family plans to stay with his failing Dad, the father tells the son he would have done the same for him if their roles were reversed. As an aside, the younger Buckley tells his readers the elder Buckley would never have changed his plans in similar circumstances.

"I smiled and thought, 'Oh no, you wouldn't'," Christo writes. "A year or two ago, I might have said it out loud, initiating one of our antler clashes. But watching him suffer had made my lingering resentments seem trivial and beside the point."

The sections of this book about Bill Buckley are probably the most interesting, because of his public notoriety. But the remembrances of young Buckley's mother, Patricia Buckley, are more sensitive. Indeed on completing the book, one has to wonder whether the young Buckley was more his mother's son than his father's.

The cover of the book features a portrait of the author and his parents. It is a handsome family, to be sure, but on studying the photograph, one has to conclude that Christo has the same penetrating, curious look of his Mother, rather than the aloof, superior countenance of his father.

Yet one cannot imagine a more dashing, daring family than the Buckleys, and young Buckley leaves no question that his family established itself as one of the most prominent American families in the 20th century (in the book, Christo drops names like his parents dropped pills).

Pat Buckley was stylish and became the doyenne of Manhattan society. She had her foibles, of course, as reported by her son. She was a consummate liar who on a whim made up stories out of whole cloth. Like Bill, she drank too much and she popped pills like candy. Her behavior was at times so outrageous that on occasion her son would write her letters scolding her:

"Dear Mum," he wrote in a letter that he found, unopened, after her death. "That really was an appalling scene at dinner last night...." Christopher discovered after her death that she left many of his letters unopened, apparently fearing more criticism from her son.

Indeed, when her time finally came, when she was unconscious on her deathbed, the young Buckley stroked his mother's hair and whispered:

"I forgive you." Later, in his memoir, Christopher recalled:

"It sounded - even to me at the time - like a terribly presumptuous statement, but it needed to be said."

The bottom line on this book: one could argue that a family memoir should uphold the family legacy, and if that is true, all the dirty laundry in this book tarnishes the Buckley aura. On the other hand, one has to concede that if, in the end, every genuine legacy has to be founded on honesty, then Christopher Buckley has polished, to the good, the memory of his parents.

Would the family patriarch agree? In his book, Christo tells how his father once he sent him an email upon publication of one of the son's books:

"This one didn't work for me. Sorry. xxB."

Would WFB have a similar reaction if he could come back to life and read his son's book on Mum and Pup?

My guess is that he would, grudgingly, approve (in spite of the younger Buckley's endorsement of Barack Obama). But then we'll never know, will we?
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on February 18, 2013
Losing Mum and Pup is Christopher Buckley's memoir about the experience of losing both of his parents within a one year period. Buckley is the only son of conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr. (WFB) and Priscilla Buckley. Christopher is a famous author in his own right, writing primarily comic novels. I know much less about Christopher than I do WFB (and I certainly don't claim to know just lots and lots about WFB!), but what he's written here is a fascinating, troubling, hilarious, and, at times, pitiful depiction of the death of a famous man and his almost equally famous wife.

I've been a big fan of WFB for a long time, as I suppose most people who are politically conservative are to varying extents. I've never drunk the WFB koolaid, mind you, and I have likewise found reasons to disagree with him here and there over the years. But WFB was an absolutely fascinating figure with an enthralling command of the english language. One of the greatest reads I ever had was his collection of speeches, Let Us Talk of Many Things. Also, if you ever saw Buckley on Firing Line or have seen him on interviews, you know that his unique cadence of speech, his verbal tics, and his unique viewpoints made him a man worthy of consideration, if not always agreement.

Christopher Buckley's memoir paints a picture of WFB that is part indictment, part confession, and part admiration. I'll give Buckley this: while some of his criticisms of his father left me feeling uncomfortable, he managed to avoid the kind of spleen-emptying vitriolic snideness and immaturity that Frank Schaeffer lapsed into in the hit-piece he penned about his own parents, Crazy for God.

Buckley paints a picture of a larger-than-life man who had larger-than-life shortcomings, but his portrait really is couched in a kind of consistent awe and admiration at the amazing journey of being WFB's son.

A few thoughts stand out after reading this book:

Fame is apparently addictive, as evidenced by the pitiful revelation that WFB had set up Google alerts to let him know of the latest news about himself on the web. (This surprised me for some reason.)

Alcohol appears to have played a huge role in the life of the Buckley family.

Some of Christopher's criticisms seem appropriate (WFB's absence from key moments of his life because of his own weird impulses), others seem humorous (WFB's absurd control of the TV remote control), and others seem petty and unnecessary.

In terms of writing, Cristopher Buckley can be side-splittingly funny. Ask Mrs. Richardson, who guffawed (to the extent, that is, that Mrs. Richardson can ever be said to "guffaw") through long stretches of this book as I read it to her. (The phrase "he is a river for his people" will just about make you lose it when you read it in the context provided by Buckley in this memoir).

Tragically, however, Christopher Buckley is somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist, and the book returns again and again to the conflict between his own loss of faith and his father's admittedly idiosyncratic Christianity. Christopher is good friends with Christopher Hitchens (he of God Is Not Greatinfamy) and, at points, it shows.

Christopher honestly recounts his growing doubts concerning Christianity as well as his father's efforts to keep him in the faith. Even so, Buckley ultimately makes a break with Christianity:

"This was not the moment to break what remained of his heart by telling him that although I greatly admired the teachings of Jesus, I had long ago stopped believing that he had risen from the dead; it's an honest enough doubt, really, but one that rather undercuts the supernatural aspect of Christianity."

At the very least, it must be stated that Christopher Buckley does understand the theological importance of the doctrines he is rejecting, as opposed to, say, certain liberal theologians who do not. And yet there is a kind of reserve and self-reflection in Buckley's disbelief that is utterly lacking in Hitchens'. For instance, Buckley seems to quote H.L. Mencken's absurd statement approvingly when he writes:

H. L. Mencken, to whose writings Pup introduced me, was proudly atheist but wrote that "If I am wrong, I will square myself when confronted in afterlife by the apostles with the simple apology, `Gentlemen, I was wrong.'"

Twice in the book Christopher recounts a sense of deep wondering about whether or not his father might really be in Heaven, and twice Christopher imagines his father interceding for him with St. Peter at the gates of Heaven.

"That night, going to sleep, I looked out the window and the thought invariably came, So, Pup, was it true, after all? Is there a heaven? Are you in it? For all my doubts, I hoped he was. If he was, then at least I stood some chance of being admitted on a technicality, with the host of Firing Line up there arguing my case. I doubt St. Peter was any match for him."

And again:

"Yesterday, I was driving behind a belchy city bus on the way back from the grocery store and suddenly found myself thinking (not for the first time) about whether Pup is in heaven. He spent so much of his life on his knees in church, so much of his life doing the right thing by so many people, a million acts of generosity. I'm--I shouldn't use the word--dying of curiosity: How did it turn out, Pup? Were you right after all? Is there a heaven? Is Mum there with you? (Grumbling, almost certainly, about the "inedible food.") And if there is a heaven and you are in it, are you thinking, Poor Christo--he's not going to make it. And is Mum saying, Bill, you have got to speak to that absurd creature at the Gates and tell him he's got to admit Christopher. It's too ridiculous for words. Even in my dreams, they're looking after me. So perhaps one is never really an orphan after all."

All of this is presumably intended to be humorous, to an extent. And yet reading this work as a believer one so desperately hopes that Christopher will come again to know that there is both a Heaven and an Intercessor...though that intercessor is not his father, but the Father's Son.

And the Son has a made a way, even for Christopher Buckley.

A fascinating and winsome read this was. As far as shedding light on the persona of WFB, you cannot put it down. In terms of how it reveals where Christopher Buckley is in life, it is sad.

On a personal level, this book cautioned me as a father to value my daughter and spend the time with her that she rightfully deserves. It also made me evaluate my own life and how I treat my family.

I don't know that I'd recommend this book for everybody, but I'm glad I read it.
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