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City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s Hardcover – September 29, 2009
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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.)
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“[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
“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
“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
“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
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what a beautifully written book, filled with enviable, at times hilarious and always fascinating portraits of the "culture vulture" denizens of 60's and 70's new york. mr. white captures the decades with an sophistication that is a welcome departure from the frivolous a la anthony hayden guest style trash i've been reading regarding this era. i had to keep my wikipedia handy to continually look up the intelligentsia and the infamous, relishing every page. i loved every minute and although i'm a little late to such rarefied company as white and friends, i look forward to learning more about mr. white and this very glamorous and thrilling crowd.
If you are at all interesting in the gay scene in NYC in the 60s and 70s, even if you're not - this book is amusing and engrossing!
CITY BOY is a frank, breezy, and not very linear memoir about White's life in New York during the late 60s through the advent of AIDS in the early 80s. This was the era of women's and gay liberation, a time when New York was still affordable and thus a magnet to young people with literary and artistic aspirations, or who just wanted to escape the moral constrictions and scrutiny of their (usually midwestern or southern) hometowns. Without overstating his importance in the New York literary world, White tells of his stuggles to get published and to earn a living as a writer. In New York this necessarily involves getting a little help from friends and frenemies, of which White had many. These included Robert Mapplethorpe, Susan Sontag, David Kalstone and many others. Some readers may crave juicier send-ups of these self-important celebrities, but I felt White's portraits were fair and balanced. I also enjoyed White's reflections on the craft of writing fiction and on how his willingness to be labeled a "gay writer" both helped and hindered his career. The book has many bitter-sweet touches of nostalgia (I especially liked his description of escaping to the Gotham Bookmark--now gone--during his lunch breaks while working for Time-Life) and is not without its moments of melancholy (many of his friends would succumb to AIDS and White lives without survivor's guilt, he speculates, only because of his own HIV positive status).
Readers who liked Christopher Bram's nonfiction pieces collected in Mapping the Territory: Selected Nonfiction, which cover the same era in New York, will likely enjoy CITY BOY.