The Unpunished Vice

by Edmund White

An insightful account of the key role reading has played in the life of literary icon Edmund White Edmund White made his name as a writer, but he remembers his life through the books he read. For White, each momentous occasion came with books to match- Proust ‘s Remembrance of Things Past, which opened up the seemingly closed world of homosexuality while he was at boarding school in Michigan; the Ezra Pound poems adored by a lover he followed to New York; the biography of Stephen Crane that inspired one of White ‘s novels. Blending memoir and literary criticism, The Unpunished Vice is a compendium of all the ways reading has shaped White ‘s life and work. His larger-than-life presence on the literary scene he is close friends with giants including Michael Ondaatje and Joyce Carol Oates lends itself to fascinating, intimate insights into the lives of some of the world ‘s best-loved cultural figures. With characteristic wit and candour, he recalls reading Henry James to Peggy Guggenheim in her private gondola in Venice, and phone calls at eight o ‘clock in the morning to Vladimir Nabokov who once said that White was his favourite American writer. Featuring writing that has appeared in The New York Review of Books, The Paris Review and The Times Literary Supplement, among others, The Unpunished Vice is a wickedly smart and insightful account of a life in literature.

About the Author

Edmund White is the author of many novels, including A Boy’s Own Story, The Beautiful Room Is Empty, The Farewell Symphony , and, most recently, Our Young Man. His nonfiction includes City Boy, Inside a Pearl, and other memoirs; The Fl neur , about Paris; and literary biographies and essays. White lives in New York.

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DNA Review

by Graeme Aitken

At the end of 2014 White suffered a massive heart attack. When he eventually came to, he found he had no desire to read! This “tireless if slow reader” describes in chapter one how this strange condition was eventually broken when a friend brought him a book of Turkish stories from the 1950s, A Useless Man by Sait Paik Abasiyanik.

Like Ronald Firbank, White was in the mood for something “dreamy and vague”. If you like receiving tips and recommendations on books to read, then this is absolutely the book for you. Books and authors and fascinating facts about them or sly gossip are in great abundance here.

Chapter seven is devoted almost entirely to Nabakov’s Pale Fire, “a hilarious and sometimes tender portrait of a homosexual madman, Kinbote … always drooling over some handsome lad and … he usually has his way with them, even in a water closet.”

Nabakov had a gay uncle and a gay brother; in fact, the American writer Paul Russell wrote a superb novel in 2011, The Unreal Life Of Sergey Nabokov about the brother, which is well worth seeking out. White also recommends Elizabeth Bowen over Virginia Woolf and EM Forster who “unfairly eclipsed all the other excellent writers of their generation”.

He recommends The Death OJThe Heart and The Heart In Paris. This is an absolutely superb guide from an erudite and extremely knowledgeable reader that will set you up for 2019 with an enormous number of titles and authors to seek out.

DNA #228

 

 

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