Edmund White made his name as a writer, but he remembers his life through the books he read. For White, each momentous occasion came with books 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. 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 – he is close friends with giants including Michael Ondaatje and Joyce Carol Oates – lends itself to fascinating, intimate insights into the lives of some of the world’s best-loved cultural figures. With characteristic wit and candour, 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 favourite American writer. The Unpunished Vice is a wickedly smart and insightful account of a life in literature.