Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Farewell, Gore Vidal

The great author, politician, intellectual, and provocateur Gore Vidal died yesterday at the age of 86. As the Associated Press, The New York Times, and other news outlets pointed out, he was one of the last of the "generation of writers who were also genuine celebrities" (AP); we saw him on TV and in the gossip columns as well as in literary venues. He was a real "public intellectual" -- he fearlessly (and even joyfully) challenged orthodoxy wherever he found it. I didn't always agree with him, and it was clear that he was often purposely being outrageous, but I was happy that such a thinker and dissident was speaking out regularly. As for his novels: they were sometimes wonderful, sometimes very disappointing. But overall he made a tremendous contribution to literature. I will never forget reading, many years ago, "Burr," one of his very best books, and a revelation to me. It is a wonderful combination of history and literature, and I couldn't put it down. A related happy personal memory is that my late father and I both read some of his novels and had good conversations about them. Vidal's essays, which I found in many of the magazines and newspapers I read, and was always happy to see, were often masterpieces of criticism, and pointed (some say sly and devilish) humor as well. Farewell, Gore Vidal. Your presence and voice will be missed.

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