Thanks to the wonders of Amazon, I was able to obtain a copy of William F. Buckley’s out of print Cruising Speed. I don’t know how this book managed to disappear from our collective consciousness because it is wonderful. Cruising Speed and Overdrive are characterized as personal documentaries.
In essence, Buckley writes an ongoing diary of events in his life, but with many excellent reflections on people, events, and how he manages his priorities. I have learned a great deal from this book.
I just happened upon a section where he thinks out loud about writing for Playboy. Specifically, he considers a 10,000 word piece he labored over about Russia which was published in Playboy and thus was theoretically seen by Playboy’s five million plus subscribers and many other “readers.” Despite the potentially huge number of eyes before which the article should have passed, Buckley notes that he only received one letter from an appreciative reader. Considering the amount of mail he got responding to NR pieces which had a far, far smaller circulation, this single reply was positively miniscule.
This tiny response from the esteemed readership of Playboy causes Buckley to wonder whether he is actually achieving anything by writing for the skin mag. He had thought himself clever gaining access to such a large readership whom he could attempt to influence, but ends up wondering whether he is simply contributing to the coarsening of the culture by giving General Motors an additional reason to suggest their own advertisements in Playboy are justified because of the “thought” pieces in the publication.
The last straw for Buckley occurs when he receives a Christmas check from Hefner’s company for being “a member of the Playboy family.” This is too much. Buckley returns the check noting Hef’s thoughtfulness and explaining that he has no interest in being a member of that particular family. In a delightful bit of prose, Buckley urges Hefner to take the money and give it to some local organization “engaged in comstockery.” He concludes that perhaps there is no further reason to write for the magazine, after all.
Despite his disappointment at not getting through to Playboy’s readers, Buckley suspects that he is getting over on Hefner in the end. He reports a story of a foreigner who saw Hefner and Buckley debate on television without the sound turned on. By the looks on their faces, the man concludes that Buckley is the free and loose libertine, while Hefner appears to be the joyless conservative. Buckley knows he is a happy man.
Cruising Speed should come back into print, stat. Whoever has those rights, has something of value.