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Gore Vidal

06/07/2016

I used to be such a fan of Gore Vidal that I even visited his house in Ravello. Linda and I didn’t enter the house. We just asked someone in the town to point it out for us. Then we walked to a viewpoint nearby and enjoyed the spectacular view of the mountains and the sea that Vidal could see from the privacy of his balcony. 

Recently the library acquired a DVD and a book about Gore Vidal. I suggest that you watch the DVD first. I’ll explain why later.

The DVD

When Gore Vidal was a television celebrity, I was too busy studying and working to watch much television and couldn’t stay up for late night talk shows. The DVD shows the famous arguments that Vidal had on television with William Buckley and Norman Mailer. I had heard about them and now I finally saw them. Not only did Vidal have a sharp wit. The video recordings also show the calm self-assurance that came with his patrician upbringing.

On the DVD, Vidal assesses the presidencies of Lincoln and Kennedy with brutal honesty. I hadn’t heard those assessments before. I had to admit that he was right. The DVD also shows the famous people who Vidal socialized with. His home was a great gathering place for well-known writers and actors such as Tennessee Williams and Paul Newman.

The Book

After you’ve watched the DVD, you might want to learn more about Gore Vidal by reading the book. However, I must warn you that it shows Vidal’s dark side. He was extremely narcissistic and treated everyone around him, even his life-long friends and companions, quite badly. The book also shows Vidal’s paranoia and belief in conspiracies. For example, Vidal believed that President Roosevelt provoked Japan into attacking Pearl Harbor.

When I was young, one of my favorite books was Gore Vidal’s apocalyptic novel Kalki. The survivors in the novel decide to live at Dumbarton Oaks. Having visited that estate, I thought it was an excellent choice. I laughed throughout the book, and I thought that the ending was hilarious. Now, having read Vidal’s biography, which includes a description of Kalki, I find the novel bizarre. I realize that I couldn’t read such a book today.

Aaron Burr

According to the DVD, Vidal’s masterpiece is his novel Burr. Having visited the Morris-Jumel Mansion, where former US Vice President Aaron Burr lived for a while, and having read about Burr in a biography of his wife Eliza, I’m curious about this novel. I might read it some time.