Marc Leeds, The Vonnegut Encyclopedia
Sean L. Maloney, The Modern Lovers (33 1/3)
Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
D.M. Thomas, The White Hotel
Mark Twain, The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn
Charles Shields, And So It Goes
Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman
Gore Vidal, Death in the Fifth Position, Death Before Bedtime, Death Likes It Hot
Gore Vidal’s three mystery novels — written in the early-to-mid 1950s under the pseudonym “Edgar Box” — were perfect summer reading: plot-driven and involving, but with enough literary panache to placate one’s inner English major. I ripped through them in a trice, and used some of the time left over to learn more about Gore, who was a complicated guy. Just to give you an idea, here’s an excerpt from his Wikipedia page:
Vidal would cruise the streets and bars of New York City and other locales and wrote in his memoir that by age twenty-five, he had had more than a thousand sexual encounters. Vidal also said that he had an intermittent romance with the actress Diana Lynn, and alluded to possibly having fathered a daughter. He was briefly engaged to the actress Joanne Woodward before she married the actor Paul Newman; after marrying, they briefly shared a house with Vidal in Los Angeles.
Vidal enjoyed telling his sexual exploits to friends. Vidal claimed to have slept with Fred Astaire when he first moved to Hollywood and also with a young Dennis Hopper.
In 1950, Vidal met Howard Austen, who became his partner for the next 53 years, until Austen’s death. He said that the secret to his long relationship with Austen was that they did not have sex with each other: “It’s easy to sustain a relationship when sex plays no part, and impossible, I have observed, when it does.” In Celebrity: The Advocate Interviews (1995), by Judy Wiedner, Vidal said that he refused to call himself “gay” because he was not an adjective, adding “to be categorized is, simply, to be enslaved. Watch out. I have never thought of myself as a victim… I’ve said — a thousand times? — in print and on TV, that everyone is bisexual.”
Peter Sargeant, the protagonist of the Death books, is resolutely — almost cartoonishly — hetero, which I guess reflects Vidal’s conflicted relationship to his own sexuality. A friend of his once said:
Gore didn’t think of himself as a gay guy. It makes him self-hating. How could he despise gays as much as he did? In my company he always used the term “fags.” He was uncomfortable with being gay. Then again, he was wildly courageous.
My only other belt-notch last month was The Third Policeman, which I enjoyed very much but felt a bit unsatisfied with, both because it ends rather abruptly and because I felt like I missed a lot. It was very funny but I bet it would have been even funnier had I always understood what he was talking about.
August’s book-reading time was negatively impacted by a willfully perverse decision to (re)subscribe to The New Yorker. Having made this mistake once before, I knew perfectly well that the magazines would pile up, unread and disdainful. The problem with The New Yorker is that the writing is too good; the only way to read it is straight through from beginning to end, skipping only the occasional dance review or other irrelevance. Which makes it perfect for an airplane flight,1less so for daily life where there are so many Other Things to distract one.
At least I had the sense to subscribe for only three months, which limits the potential damage. And after immediately falling three issues behind, I am now down to less than one and a half, and feeling pretty good about that.
A goal for September is to finish Huckleberry Finn, which I started last summer and got about halfway through before losing momentum. It is the kind of book that wants to be read outside on a nice warm day; we had one last week, so I dug Huck out of the living room stack and had a productive afternoon with him. With luck there will be more such days in the offing.
And after finally getting around to watching the Kurt Vonnegut documentary Unstuck in Time, I was inspired to take a stab at And So It Goes, Charles Shields’ KV biography, which has been in my pile for a couple years now. I made a good start on it, then it got stuck in Non-Fiction Limbo, where it somehow is never the book I choose to read on any given day. But its time will come.
The same burst of enthusiasm led me to acquire both Vonnegut’s own A Man Without a Country — a late-career essay collection — and Marc Leeds’ The Vonnegut Encyclopedia, which turned out to be a much weightier tome than I expected. The former will probably get read soon; the latter may never get read in its entirety, and may not be meant to.
Buying the 33 1/3 book on The Modern Lovers was another mistake. I was looking for background on “Pablo Picasso” (about which more later), only to discover that the chapter dedicated to it had, like, three paragraphs on the actual song, with the rest filled by a general history of the Boston music scene. Thanks for nothing, Sean L. Maloney.
That leaves only The White Hotel, which has become my bedside book. It begins, a la Pale Fire, with a lengthy poem which it seems like the rest of the book will be a gloss on. So far it’s quite sexy, and very Freudian, and largely baffling. There may be more to say when I get further into it. For now let’s cut this thing off before it gets any more out of control. If you made it this far, you are a rare bird and I salute you; give yourself a pat on the back and take the rest of the day off.