I finished The Selected Essays Of Gore Vidal today. It’s divided into two parts. The first focuses on writers/books, the second on politics/culture (primarily US).
He’s great at describing why he disdains things. His critique of Updike was so thoroughly pulverizing it made me embarrassed for Updike. Though I got the impression these sorts of take-downs brought him the most joy, there’s also a charm to his restrained praise of writers/books that managed to impress him. His essay on Calvino made me bump him up my to-read list. I hadn’t heard of Dawn Powell before reading his essay on her, but it was probably my favorite of his laudatory essays. He first reduces her writing to its plain constituent parts (almost all of her novels are about Americans from the midwest trying to make it in NYC, apparently), then builds a heartfelt appreciation back up from (and enabled by) the deconstruction.
The political/cultural stuff seems well ahead of its time for the most part (though early on he does throw around slurs ironically in a way that hasn’t aged well, imo), but isn’t particularly eye-opening today (the predicament of prescience). Still, it’s valuable to see blueprints (that now feel like recaps) of some of the fundamentals of current leftist thinking. Oddly, he seemed to be a deficit hawk - but mostly in relation to military spending, where I don’t think any reasonable person would argue with him.
Topic relevance aside, he’s a gripping stylist and I’d recommend checking out at least a couple essays by him sometime.