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Nov

20

2006

More Gore:

Gorevidal

For no good reason, I once objected to reading or even acknowledging the existance of Gore Vidal. Actually, I had one lousy reason: I hated his name. I figured anyone with a name as precious and aristocratic as "Gore Vidal" (really, could you see yourself playing kickball with someone named "Gore"?) had nothing to share with me and my Midwestern-born, sneakers-wearing, Goonies-loving self.

About 10 years ago, I read his amazing introduction to the collected works of H.L. Mencken. Soon after I moved to the Bay Area, I began hearing his lethally acerbic radio commentaries. Just last week, I get a note from Truthdig.com that they've run a lenghty excerpt from his new memoir Point to Point Navigation which is getting a fair amount of hype.

None of really sunk in until I read this article in the New York Review of Books by Larry McMurtry. It begins like so...

In 1904, when Leonard Woolf steamed off eastward to become a cadet in the Ceylon Civil Service, he took with him seventy large and well-printed volumes of Voltaire, the edition of 1784, in Baskerville type. In Ceylon his duties were not light—from time to time it became necessary to hang a felon. Fortunately, in compensation, native women were available, and also, it appears, cheap. Very little more is heard from Leonard Woolf about Voltaire or the Baskerville type.

If I were planning to embark for a far place and stay for several years I think I'd take my forty-six volumes of the writings of Gore Vidal. (The forty-sixth, a collection of short fiction called Clouds and Eclipses, has just appeared.[1] ) This count does not include the pseudonymous work, which would be for another essay. Given that print is smaller now, and margins meaner, I probably have about as much wordage of Gore Vidal's as Leonard Woolf had of Voltaire's; and the two men, Voltaire and Vidal, seem to me to have several things in common. Both were brilliant talkers; likewise brilliant satirists. Both initially needed money and worked very hard to get it. Both also needed courts: Where better to place their well-sharpened darts than in royal rumps?

Fortunately, they had courts: Voltaire the Versailles of Louis XV, as well as the Berlin of Frederick the Great and courts of lesser brilliance. Vidal had the Kennedy Camelot in Washington, D.C., as well as the courts of several emperors of the silver screen: Sam Spiegel, for example, and there is probably no better example.

I didn't need to read much further to be sold but I did. Vidal has let the kind of life I dream about: Writing great books, meeting amazing people and leading with his gift of gab. I have no idea if I'll be as envious after reading one of his books or if Vidal's adventures were simply a product of their time, a pre-Internet rarified society, impossible today. I'm willing to get in there and look.

Should I pass a good bookstore while on vacation, I will be buying a copy of Vidal's Palimpsest, his first memoir. If not, I'll be checking out of the library. Reading McMurtry's encomium not only make me excited to read Vidal but excited to read, period.


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