Ten Thoughts on the Passing of Gore Vidal
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    • Nation Books author Gore Vidal, center, played Director Josef in the 1997 sci-fi thriller Gattaca.

1) Gore Vidal's grand essay collection United States should be mandatory reading for every American. They deserve to be spoken of in the same breath as Montaigne's essays. (For some perverse reason it seems to be out of print, but copies are still available online.)

2) Let us also recall that Vidal played a vital role in popularizing the work of, among others, the Italian writers Italo Calvino and Leonardo Sciascia in the English-speaking world. This was symptomatic of a generosity that has been somewhat eclipsed by his reputation for having, as he said, "a cold exterior" and beneath that, "cold water." He said Calvino had "advanced beyond his American and English contemporaries;" he compared the Sicilian novelist Sciascia to Pirandello and described him as "a man of the enlightenment [who had] a hard clarity reminiscent of Stendhal." [His essay on Calvino is available behind a subscriber paywall but his obituary for Calvino can be read onlne.]

3) Gore Vidal's Julian, his epic novel about the last Roman emperor devoted to Hellenic religion and the destruction of Christianity, is a paean to a passing pantheistic order. Last night, Vidal returned to take his place amongst those old Gods.

4) My favorite Vidal novel is Julian. I once tried to convince Paul Newman, when he was in the office of the Nation magazine, that he should make it into a movie. I think he thought I was bonkers.

5) My favorite Gore Vidal quote: "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail."

6) Gore Vidal's four favorite words in the English language were: "I told you so." His three saddest words: "Joyce Carol Oates."

7) Forget Vidal's rivalry with Norman Mailer, his hatred of Truman Capote was spectacular. When Capote died, Vidal quipped that his death was "a good career move."

8) He took great pride in his membership of the Screen Actors Guild. His performance as Director Josef in the sci-fi thriller Gattaca was sublime.

9) The first time I thought I was going to meet Vidal was in the mid-'90s in Oxford, UK, where I was living at the time. Vidal's friend and executor Jay Parini was threatening to bring him over to meet me at the bookstore where I was workng. I was terrified. Thankfully, the two of them never made it. I heard they were too drunk at Iris Murdoch and John Bayley's to come over.

10) In so many ways, Gore Vidal played a vital role in the kickstarting of Nation Books, with his three bestselling short books for us,  Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Dreaming War, and Imperial America, and his introduction to our first Nation Books title, the anthology The Best of the Nation. He was a real mensch, and generous in letting us use his home for our events. And he was not that scary. In fact, I don't think I have met a funnier human being. #RIP

Tags: gore vidal, gore vidal obituary

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