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THE BURNING LIBRARY by Edmund White

THE BURNING LIBRARY

Essays

By Edmund White

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-43475-5
Publisher: Knopf

 Spanning 25 turbulent years in gay history and his own career as a writer, a collection of White's (Genet: A Biography, 1993, etc.) frequently humane and perceptive essays. Whether literary or sociological, the essays gathered here thematically divide neatly into sections by decade: the efflorescence of the gay movement in the '70s; the growing effect of the AIDS crisis on the gay community in the '80s; and finally, the grief and anger of the '90s. The first essay, the never before published ``The Gay Philosopher,'' is White's hopeful self-assertion and self-examination as a homosexual, written in the year of the Stonewall riots; and the last, ``The Personal Is Political,'' looks back in some bitterness over his development as a novelist trying to reach both straight and gay readers and the devastation of AIDS. Most of these pieces were written for such publications as Vanity Fair, the Times Literary Supplement, and the New York Times Book Review, for White writes for the humanistic audience of the Common Reader. His acutely discerning surveys of writers like Tennessee Williams, Christopher Isherwood, and Jean Genet are aesthetically, not ideologically, driven; their homosexuality is presented as a fact to be examined, like their works, not as an issue to be propagandized. A stylist influenced by Nabokov and Proust, White is surest when examining words themselves--whether the poetry of James Merrill or the etymology of queer slang--but he displays a novelist's penetrating skepticism in addressing such contentious matters as straight-gay friendships, racial attitudes, or the '70s S&M scene. Temperamentally, though, his moderation sometimes leads to overoptimism or naive generalization when he examines broader issues of gay culture, and many of his earlier opinions are brutally undercut by the frustration of gay civil rights, the culture wars, and the deaths of friends, lovers, and artistic peers. The moving record of a moderate humanist in extreme circumstances, who is eventually overwhelmed by them. (Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selection)