Edmund White–Documenting Our Lives in Print

Edmund White at his desk  Taken from the Edmund White web page.
Edmund White at his desk



Long story, short, I have found the need to clear up the clutter in my work space. Doing so uncovered this delightful, and bittersweet book by Edmund White that I’ve had on my desk as something to pick up and read while taking a break from other stuff. In picking it up this afternoon, I found that I was so close to the end, that I might as well finish it. So I did. Now I’m going to have to go back and read the whole book again. Yes, it’s that good.

LibraryThing tells me that I have 14 of White’s books in my library. Not bad as Amazon lists 22 works by the author. I’m two-thirds of the way to having his complete works. Ah but wait, the Wikipedia article on the author lists 29 published works, plus another four anthologies in which he participated. And the man’s still alive, so more could still come from his pen.

States of Desire

The first book I remember reading by White was the 1980 States of Desire. I came out in the late 70s, and that’s when I started collecting gay-themed literature. The subtitle for the book is “Travels in Gay America,” and the thing I remember most clearly from reading the book, is that with the exception of those living in Kansas City, all the hot men in the U.S. were 35 years old. (In Kansas City, you were considered over-the-hill at 25.) In re-reading the book, I found that White never actually said that. But nevertheless, that’s what imprinted itself in my mind. I was 33 when I read the book.

One of five books White wrote pre-AIDS, States of Desire was a great introduction to gay life in the U.S.–at least I found it so. My other main take-away came from the chapter on Portland and Seattle. As those two cities are home to a great many displaced Montana gay men, I was particularly intrigued with his comparison of the two. White describes them as twin brothers, one who grew up to be a ballet dancer and the other a lumberjack. You can guess which city is which.

A Boy’s Own Story

My own note inside the cover says that I read this novel on July 12, 1986. White published the book in 1982, so I consider it one of his “pre-AIDS” books. By the time I read it, AIDS was filling our lives–including my own. My partner Richard was the first person in Missoula County to be diagnosed with AIDS–at the end of June, 1986. I can’t say that I remember the story, but the Chicago Sun-Times called it “The best American narrative of sexual awakening since Catcher in the Rye.” The New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post Bookworld, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Susan Sontag all praised the book.

I’ll have to read it again–in fact, it will be the next book I read–starting just as soon as I publish this post. (I have two copies of it, if anyone wants to read along.) Or perhaps I should sell that other copy. I see that someone is selling the edition I have for over $1300.

In Conclusion

I could go on. I’ve now pulled all my Edmund White books and have placed them on my work shelf. If one can binge watch shows, can I not binge read a favorite author? Note: I stole the photo at the top of the post from White’s own website. I hope he doesn’t mind. You can find the website here.

And returning to the first little book above, Our Paris, I said the book was “delightful and bittersweet.” I feel that anyone who loves Paris will also love this little book. It is a joint effort by Edmund White and his partner Hubert Sorin. Sorin trained and worked as an architect until he changed direction and began drawing. In this collaboration, White penned the words and Sorin the illustrations.

You’ll understand why I call the book “bittersweet” when I share the this sentence from White’s “Afterword.” “Hubert Sorin, my lover, who died just two hours ago in the Polyclinique du Sud in Marrakesh, was an architect who turned himself into an illustrator…” Speaking as someone who wrote his own lover’s obituary only hours after that death, I know how difficult and how important that bit of writing is.

My Reading Lists

Last year (2020), I started keeping a list of all my recreational and educational reading. I abandonned that project soon after starting it, and I haven’t done anything like it in 2021. If you’re interested in what I did track, you can see the list elsewhere on my blog.

One final note. The links to the three books mentioned all will take you to my bit of the Amazon sales world. Should I have enticed you to buy any of these books, I will get a small commission that doesn’t add to your cost. Full Disclosure.