Today Leonard talks with literary icon Edmund White.
Edmund White made his name through his writing but remembers his life through the books he has read. For White, each momentous occasion came with a book 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. But it wasn’t until heart surgery in 2014, when he temporarily lost his desire to read, that White realized the key role that reading played in his life: forming his tastes, shaping his memories, and amusing him through the best and worst life had to offer.
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 lends itself to fascinating, intimate insights into the lives of some of the world’s best-loved cultural figures. With characteristic wit and candor, 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 favorite American writer.