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City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s Hardcover – September 29, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596914025
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596914025
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #931,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Novelist and critic White (A Boy's Own Story; The Joy of Gay Sex) weaves erotic encounters and long-ago literati into a vast tapestry of Manhattan memories. He arrived from the Midwest in 1962, worked at Time-Life Books, haunted the Gotham Book Mart and went street cruising: We had to seek out most of our men on the hoof. In 1970, he quit his job to live in Rome, returning to find sexual abundance in New York. An editor with Saturday Review and Horizon, White knew artists, writers and poets, yet his own writing remained at the starting gate. He fictionalized Fire Island rituals for his first novel, Forgetting Elena (1971), which took years to find a publisher and then sold only 600 copies. Nabokov later labeled it a marvelous book, ranking White along with Updike and Robbe-Grillet. His second novel, about hetero/homosexual friendships, was never published, yet he longed for literary celebrity. How he overcame setbacks and confronted his insecurities to eventually write 23 books makes for fascinating reading. Along the way, he notes how Fun City became Fear City with the AIDS crisis, and he recalls meeting everyone from Borges, Burroughs and Capote to Peggy Guggenheim, John Ashbery, Susan Sontag, Robert Mapplethorpe and Jasper Johns. White writes with a simple, fluid style, and beneath his patina of pain, a refreshing honesty emerges. This is a brilliant recreation of an era, rich in revels, revolutions and leather boys leading the human tidal wave. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“[A] moving chronicle…that peacock’s tail, those stag’s antlers—they’re here, to be sure, but so are vulnerability, doubt, failure and long years toiling at the sort of cruddy day jobs that most literary writers know all too well…In City Boy, White is amusing and raucous as ever but he also lets the mask slip…his losses and struggles, as consequence, seems less sculpted, but more real….Some stories don’t need to be embellished to glow.”  - New York Times Book Review
"An open-throttled tour of New York City during the bad old days of the 1960s and early '70s… it's all here in exacting and eye-popping detail… There is a great deal of sex and gossip in City Boy, but it is also a minor-key account of Mr. White's coming of age as a writer… City Boy is Mr. White's second memoir in three years, and a great deal of his fiction has been autobiographical. You get the sense of a writer slowly peeling his life like an artichoke, letting only a few stray leaves go at a time… This one is salty and buttery, for sure. Mr. White's ''Oh, come on, guys'' meekness has vanished into thin air." - New York Times
"City Boy is an amazing memoir of White’s hunger for literary fame — for publication even — and intellectual esteem in the superheated creative world of ’60s and ’70s New York. His sketches of writers and artists, including everyone from poets James Merrill and John Ashbery to artist Robert Wilson and editor Robert Gottlieb, are full of bon mots, sharply observed details, and great honesty about his own desires for love and esteem. City Boy vividly brings to life the sheer squalor of life in 1970s New York… A wonderful raconteur with a well-stocked fund of anecdotes and observations, White’s writings reveal much about alliances, alignments, and personalities from a vanished world that still echo strongly in our own." - This Week in New York

“Edmund White is no one-trick pony. The prolific novelist, critic, memoirist, gay activist, professor and social aspirant has waded into countless literary and intellectual pools and sent visible ripples through each. White's latest book, a ruminative and rambling memoir of his time in New York City in the 1970s, takes readers on a dime tour through the writer's initiation into circles that spun with such blinding talents as Susan Sontag, Richard Howard, John Ashbery, Michel Foucault, even Vladimir Nabokov and Anthony Burgess… City Boy presents an exhilarating sketch of the grizzled, untamed and dangerous way of life that was New York in the 1960s and '70s… His New York was …a place where high and low collided in an irreproducible frisson of ecstatic creativity… White's reflections on what it meant to be an out ‘gay’ writer at a time when there was no such thing are valuable and illuminating… We're lucky for [his] pioneering work… White's latest reflection offers a valuable glimpse into the mind of an indispensable writer and critic.” —Buffalo News

"The 1960s and 70s were a pivotal time for gay men, a time when homosexuals made history by redefining their role in society at large by standing up for the basic human rights we enjoy today – and then there's all that rampant, unbridled sex on the Chelsea piers. Popular gay historian, novelist, memoirist and survivor Edmund White takes us there in style in City Boy…. In his own classy, restrained, inimitable style, Edmund White presents graceful ruminations on an ungraceful time as one forgotten decade casts a long shadow on the one that followed. Simply put, this book is a gem, and if time travel were indeed a possibility, White would make the ultimate tour guide." —Bay Area Reporter
"Chronicl[es] Gotham’s cultural highs and lows during those two heady and iconic decades...
fleshing out our notion of how vital a period the ’60s and ’70s were... Since White is a born raconteur, his gimlet-eyed anecdotes about celebrities of the era are as tangy as blood orange sorbet served after lobster Thermidor... [he] matches his talent for journalism with brilliant imagistic prose." —Gay City News

“A colorfully detailed remembrance…with his novelist’s brilliance in turns of phrase in evoking these places, [White] also recalls the many celebrated writers he encountered over the years in his slow climb to writerly success. A special invitation to a world gone by.” —Booklist

“Novelist and critic White weaves erotic encounters and long-ago literati into a vast tapestry of Manhattan memories… How he overcame setbacks and confronted his insecurities to eventually write 23 books makes for fascinating reading…White writes with a simple, fluid style, and beneath his patina of pain, a refreshing honesty emerges. This is a brilliant recreation of an era, rich in revels, revolutions and ‘leather boys leading the human tidal wave.’” —Publishers Weekly

"A graceful memoir of a decidedly ungraceful time in the life of New York City... A welcome portrait of a time and place long past, and much yearned for." —Kirkus Reviews
"[An] exuberant, thoughtful memoir. ...Ambition, amphetamines, neurosis and an era when New York vibrated with desire combined for heady times in his young life... Sparkling cameo appearances by the likes of Truman Capote, Robert Mapplethorpe and Fran Lebowitz expand the feeling that artistic Manhattan then was a very different place than it is today... White's vivid analysis of his artistic struggles and literary progress during these years is like a master class for other writers... [His] memoir ... has charm to burn." —Shelf Awareness

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Customer Reviews

With fluid prose, White also invites the reader into the literary and art world of those decades.
Nina Bennett
Only knowing something about a few of the people, and finding that many of them not being ones that I would want to know, this book is less captivating.
Thomas Littler
An excessive amount of name dropping turned me off from the very beginning, and the rest of the book did little to change my impressions.
D. Quinn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 36 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In Edmund White's latest book he fleshes out-- no pun intended-- material he has covered previously in MY LIVES, the time he spent in New York in the 1960's and 70's. It was the time that Brad Gooch has labeled "the golden age of promiscuity" in his novel by the same name and that Susan Sontag-- one of the people White writes extensively about-- describes as the only time in human history when people "were free to have sex when and how they wanted," because of access to birth control pills and before the advent of AIDS. Sontag wrote a recommendation for White's groundbreaking novel A BOY'S OWN STORY but asked that her blurb be removed from editions that appeared after she severed her friendship with him because he modeled a character on her in his novel CARACOLE, the only White novel that I have never been able to read. Besides Sontag, he writes about dozens of people he knew during this period: Robert Mapplethorpe, who used the N word; William Burroughs, whom White deliciously describes as having "the look of an unsuccessful Kansas Undertaker"; Jasper Johns; Thom Gunn; Lillian Hellman; John Ashberry; James Merrill et al. Never having met any of these people-- getting Mapplethorpe to sign a book doesn't count-- I have no idea whether or not White's descriptions of these individuals are accurate nor not. He certainly convinces you, however, that they are. Since White is now as famous as many of the people he discusses, he can hardly be called a name-dropper, a word, as he tells us, that does not exist in the French language.

White also chronicles his days at Time-Life as well as other dull jobs and of course his nights of sex as well: "We tried to trick every night, if we could do it efficiently, but we reserved the weekends for our serious hunting sorties.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Blake Fraina VINE VOICE on January 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In Alan Bennett's play The History Boys, when the dimmest of the students is asked to define history, he replies, "It's just one [expletive] thing after another." Reductive? Perhaps. Funny? Certainly. But also, quite true.

And it happens to be the reason I tend to avoid non-fiction...memoirs in particular. At least when one is writing a biography (particularly about someone who is already dead) or writing about history, the author has enough distance to give the story some shape and ascribe it some sort of meaning.

Autobiography is a bit stickier.

I chose to read White's City Boy primarily because of its subtitle, "My Life in New York During the 1960's and 70's." As a music fan, that era in NYC history has always interested me. Even though the seedy, filthy, dangerous New York of the 1970's has all but been forgotten, it was fertile ground for many of the most influential artists, filmmakers, writers and musicians of the latter part of the Twentieth Century. Over the years, books like Edie and Please Kill Me (both of which consist of edited and skillfully arranged interviews) have fed my interest in this period. I figured if anyone could conjur that time period on the page, it would surely be a skillful and evocative writer like White.

Unfortunately I found the book to be dull and almost completely formless. He flits from one episode to another, tepidly dishing the dirt on a lot of hotsy totsy (and mostly dead) literary luminaries, only about half of whom I've heard of. While he does spill a fair amount of ink on the squalid living conditions in pre-boom Manhattan, the descriptions are all fairly dry and cliche (garbage piling in the streets due to strikes, multiple locks on apartment doors) and lack any real flavour of the era.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By yimmy on July 13, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Poor Edmund White. Like so many other gay identified writers of the 1970s, White only reinforces stereotypes about urban gay men. His only calling card seems to be his associations with greatness.

While White could reconstruct the energy of the period, he instead spends his time letting the reader know he knew everyone who was "anyone" from the era. Did you know White was friends with Robert Mapplethorpe? He was also Susan Sontag's gay BFF! Because all of White's relationships are superficial, we don't learn (or feel) anything meaningful.

White fashions himself an observer: a nondescript, boring observer. Frankly, no one in his sphere seems remotely interested in his point-of-view. Even White gives up on his argument promoting "gay literature" as an art form. He starts to recognize that the movement's strength is it allowed lesser talents to get exposure. The reader almost feels bad for him as he attempts to justify the literary merits of his ghost writing of The Book of Gay Sex. Hey, it paid the bills.

You can't even look to City Boy for some trashy fun. White can at the very least, like any other hack, get all Jacqueline Susann and share some gossip. If you expect some exciting party moments or White being a bohemian free spirit, rent the film Cruising instead. If he does get into a "wild night" at the Anvil or the Mineshaft, he either is out of the picture, or lacks the imagination to make the moment unique.

White is primarily concerned with sounding relevant. He spends much of his time seething about the groundbreaking authors of the time like Hubert Selby-authors whose talent transcends "genre" to reach universal acclaim.
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