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The Klein/Hitchens switch

Many audience members going into Saturday night’s Booked! event with Christopher Hitchens, Naomi Klein, and Linda McQuaig, were probably expecting some healthy – possibly even vitriolic – debate among the three political authors. But each author on the bill spoke and read separately; at no time did any of them share the stage. All three acquitted themselves nicely and engaged the audience, but it felt like a missed opportunity. Why put three such opinionated writers together and then keep them apart all evening?

In any case, it seemed that all the real drama was backstage. When the evening began, it was announced that the speaking order had been rearranged, so that Hitchens would go second-last and Klein would finish up the evening, rather than the other way around. “I wasn’t quite prepared to go on so soon, so you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a bit scattered,” Hitchens told the crowd. And when Klein appeared, she revealed that she had requested the change, and implied that she wanted a chance to rebut any unpleasant comments that Hitchens might make about her or her politcial viewpoints.

As it happened, Hitchens delivered his entire speech without mentioning her name at all. But Klein mentioned Hitchens several times, most notably when she took issue with his statement that democrats “don’t want to fight for civilization” and that North American society is “superior” to that of Islamic society. “I’m not against fighting for civilization and all that,” Klein said, “It’s just that I’m still not sure where ‘civilization’ is… I’m still looking.”

Incidentally, the speaker who appeared to be the most well-received of the evening was a fourth participant, Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music. His speech, about why the human brain responds to and needs music, was a nice respite from the political stuff and set off a good buzz among the audience.