Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 750
Cruising Speed is a diary or journal—whichever term is the more inclusive— recording the activities of one week (November 30 through December 6, 1970) in the life of William F. Buckley, Jr., author, editor, columnist, lecturer, television personality, conservative controversialist, and several more things besides.
It is helpful for the reader to recall the historical circumstances surrounding the book’s publication. Richard M. Nixon is completing the second year of his first term as President of the United States. The Watergate scandal and the president’s resignation in disgrace are some three years into the future. The United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War is entering roughly its tenth year, and Buckley strongly supports the prosecution of that war.
The genre of Cruising Speed is both a venerable and an appropriate one. The literature of self-examination goes back at least as far as Michel de Montaigne’s Essais (1580-1595; Essays). It could be argued, in fact, that the genre dates from Saint Augustine’s Confessiones (397; Confessions). Although he is a devout Roman Catholic, Buckley seldom adopts a confessional tone. The structure of Cruising Speed is more akin to that of John Evelyn’s Diary (1818) and of Samuel Pepys’s Diary (1825), those two invaluable and fascinating records of life in Restoration England. The differences are significant enough—Evelyn and Pepys wrote for themselves, not the public, and their diaries were not published until they had been dead for more than a century—but the similarities are striking too. Buckley, like the English diarists, is a man of affairs, who records the details of his daily life— although for only seven days—during a period of social and political turbulence.
Buckley states that he will not drop names in his book, that he will not pretend to a familiarity he does not have with the famous and powerful. On the other hand, he will not be constrained by a false modesty from mentioning letters he has received from the President of the United States or conversations he has had with eminent people whom he does, in fact, know.
The book begins on Monday, November 30, 1970, six days after the author’s forty-fifth birthday and a few days after the election of his brother James to the United States Senate from New York. It ends on the following Sunday evening. Its organization is loose, as it has no formal chapters. Breaks in the print set off the events of one day from those of the next. The treatment of each of the seven days, and of the constituent parts of each day, varies widely. Sometimes, several hours will be summed up in a single paragraph. At other times, the examination of an incident of a few minutes’ duration will require many pages.
The reader first meets Buckley in Stamford, Connecticut, as the author; his wife, Pat; their maid, Angela; their house guest, Peter Glenville; and three dogs set off for the Buckleys’ New York residence on Seventy-third Street. While Pat and Peter Glenville chatter and the dogs bound about, Buckley crams for the two television shows he will begin taping at half past two that afternoon. As the week progresses, he will write three columns for newspaper syndication; edit an issue of his magazine, National Review; engage in two debates; give several lectures; meet with his publisher, his lawyer, his accountant, and others; answer a mountain of correspondence; exercise and practice self-defense at a gymnasium; accompany Truman Capote to a West Side discotheque; attend mass; and fly to Washington, D.C., for a meeting. So goes a typical week in the life of America’s foremost multimedia conservative.
Cruising Speed is meant to be entertaining, and it is, because Buckley is a witty and graceful writer who lives an extraordinarily full and interesting life. Primarily, however, the content suits his purposes as a conservative dialectician. When he discusses and cites passages from the week’s columns, lectures, and correspondence, his ideas reach many who did not read or hear them during that week in November-December, 1970. In the case of a letter, he expands his audience from one reader to many thousands.
As the week ends, the reader might expect the author’s frenetic way of life to leave him drained, but Buckley purports still to be fit and feisty. Early in the book, he has made the astounding revelation that he suffers from chronic low blood pressure. Thus, the reader is left to fantasize about a William F. Buckley, Jr., with a full measure of energy.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 66
Dubois, Larry. “Cruising Speed,” in Harper’s Magazine. CCXLIII ( November, 1971), pp. 134-136.
Dunne, John Gregory. “Happy Days Are Here Again,” in The New York Review of Books. XXX (October 13, 1983), pp. 20, 28-30.
Mano, D. K. “Man in Motion,” in National Review. XXIII (October 8, 1971), p. 1121.
Nash, George H. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, 1976.
Ross, Mitchell S. The Literary Politicians, 1978.
Winchell, Mark Royden. William F. Buckley, Jr., 1984.