July 18

The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal (Random House 1995, orig. 1948)

It’s hard to believe this book caused such a furor on its publication in 1948. (Most major publications ignored it and then blacklisted Vidal’s subsequent books for the next six years; the NY Times refused advertising on its behalf.) Published the same year as the Kinsey Report, it must have seemed part of a concerted attack on American morals. In fact, it was the first notable volley of queer writing to appear in English by a respected author, and it remains one of the watershed novels of 20th century gay literature. Thomas Mann called it “noble” and “truthful.” In the original version, a teenager named Jim Willard has a sexual encounter with a fellow high-school student, Bob Ford. Bob leaves town to join the navy and Jim spends the next seven years trying to find him, which he does with tragic consequences. Vidal later revised the book, toning down the ending considerably in a version republished in 1965. While it has its charms, it’s not a very good book by any means, but back in the day it was the only game in town, so it’s not surprising so many gay men grew up on it.

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