Jewish Journal

Christopher Hitchens, the man who was interested in everything

by Ryan Torok

December 16, 2011 | 10:54 am

Hitchens. Photo by ensceptico.

I woke up this morning to a text message from my father: “Christopher Hitchens died.”

The writer and public intellectual died on Dec. 15 at the age of 62 from esophageal cancer. Hitchens was 38-years-old when he found out that he was Jewish. 

“He had an output to equal what he took in,” editor Graydon Carter wrote in a tribute to Hitchens in Vanity Fair yesterday. Hitchens wrote regularly for the publication. He also wrote for Slate.

Jeffrey Goldberg has written about him as well. Today, Golbderg wrote, “I don’t think he would mind me saying that I thank God for the privilege of knowing him.”

It’s true. Hitchens, who, as strong as his convictions in his beliefs, was committed to having a sense of humor about himself and, well, life, probably would not have minded this statement. From what I’ve read by Hitchens, he seems to have respected, more than anything, intellect and honesty. Goldberg appears to committed to that the way Hitchens was, so it’s no wonder the two had a relationship.

Reading “Hitch-22,” his memoir released in 2010, I most enjoyed the section about him aligning with Salmon Rushdie in the wake of the controversy that emerged after Rushdie published “The Satanic Verses.” Rushdie’s book upset radical Muslims—Rushdie went into hiding, in fact, as a fatwa was issue against him, and Hitchens – or Hitch, as he was called – helped Rushdie during this time.

As I read “Hitch-22,” which I picked up not along after I started at the Journal to prepare for an event put on by ALOUD, a local lecture series, for which Hitchens was scheduled to appear – he cancelled at the last minute, as this was during the onset of his sickness (the event was in June 2010, and Hitchens announced his sickness in 2010) – I underlined phrases that resonated with me. One of my favorites happened to be in the acknowledgements section at the end of the book: a writer’s “promiscuous mandate is to be interested in everything.”

In his tribute to Hitchens, Carter reinforces that Hitchens’ mind was wide open it came to taking on assignments. From going overseas and writing about nations entrenched in violent conflicts, putting himself in the middle of the action, to writing about a spa treatment in an article about self-improvement, Hitchens lived up to the task of being interested in everything.

“He’d also subject himself to any manner of humiliation or discomfort in the name of his column,” Carter said.

As a writer, to be interested in everything is something I aspire to, and it’s advice that would behoove anybody – regardless of their career, I think – to take.

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Ryan Torok is a staff writer and community reporter at the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, where he has spent the past four years covering everything from social justice...

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