It’s always a pleasure when something unexpectedly intriguing crosses my desk. Such was the case a few months ago with the arrival of a book called Ransoming Pagan Babies. Quite the provocative title, I admit, but more significantly, I realized that the book was a collection by a writer I hadn’t thought about in years.
There he was on the cover, paunch, defiant stance, and eye patch firmly in place: Warren Hinckle, the pioneering, muckraking editor of Ramparts and prolific writer at large around downtown San Francisco from the 1960s into the 2000s, an artist our reviewer called “a cross between Christopher Hitchens and Joseph Mitchell, with some of the personal habits of Hunter Thompson.” That he was, but as our review continues, “for all his dissolute ways, he was whip-smart, caught between embracing his Jesuitical education and rejecting its premises.”
I discovered Hinckle purely by chance in college, while researching Hunter S. Thompson and some of the offshoots of the many-tentacled New Journalism movement. For a little less than a semester, I gobbled up what I could find, and then, in a classically college-kid move, flitted on to other pastures. I never returned to Hinckle after college but remained fascinated by the artists, politicians, and other figures who moved in and out of his orbit, particularly in the 1970s and ’80s. So I was quite pleased when I got this new collection from Heyday, and even happier when we awarded it a star.
Ransoming Pagan Babies (read the book to understand the title) is certainly, as our reviewer noted, an “embarrassment of riches,” and while there is little in the way of extended editorial analysis or connective tissue, the anthology hardly needs it. The book is “essential for students of journalism, particularly local and long-form, and a pleasure for anyone who values lively prose.” Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.