In 2018 I read an old book of miscellaneous addresses and essays by my favorite Canadian curmudgeon Robertson Davies called The Merry Heart (1998 [amazon]), and in previous years enjoyed similar compilations of material from Neil Gaiman (The View from the Cheap Seats, 2016 [amazon]); and Neal Stephenson (Some Remarks, 2012 [amazon]).
This year’s delight is certainly going to be Scalia Speaks (2017 [amazon]), a compilation of speeches by the late justice known for his staggering erudition, his biting wit, and his personal warmth. One of his sons (Christopher J. Scalia) and one of his former law clerks (Edward Whelen) have chosen and introduced a number of addresses given on many occasions. They are marvelous! Scalia’s good friend and fellow justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Notorious RBG herself) wrote the forward.
Here are a few tidbits:
Scalia praises the Irish in a St. Patrick’s Day speech to an Irish audience:
Bluntness is important not only because it lets people know where they stand, but also because it toughens them up. Life is not a enterprise for sissies; the Irish know that, and they treat both themselves and others with a kind of benevolent roughness designed to prepare them for the world.
He contrasts the lessons learned from World War II by Europeans and Americans:
Whereas Europeans saw the rise to power of Hitler and Mussolini as representing the failures of democracy, the danger that can result from the tyranny of the majority, Americans saw the defeat of fascism as a great victory for democracy, proof that democracy is the path of greatest virtue.
He explains that there were no soccer moms in Queens when he was growing up:
Americans overwhelmingly preferred baseball, a game in which a lot of players stand around while not much happens, to soccer, a game in which people run back and forth furiously while not much happens.
And, on the question of whether there is a genius which makes a good writer, he offers this opinion:
I think there is a writing genius as well — which consists primarily, I think, of the ability to place oneself in the shoe’s of one’s audience; to assume only what they assume; to anticipate what they anticipate; to explain what they need explained; to think what they must be thinking; to feel what they must be feeling.
(from, respectively “Italian View of the Irish,” p. 21; “American Values and European Values,” p. 38; “Games and Sports,” p. 53; “Writing Well,” p. 60).