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City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s Paperback – September 28, 2010

3.6 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“[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….City Boy, plain-spoken and knowing, is a survivor's tale, a missive from one of those antlered boys of that era to the others who are gone: this is who we were, this is how it was, this was our city. Some stories don't need to be embellished to glow.” ―New York Times Book Review

City Boy is Mr. White's second memoir in three years, and a great deal of his fiction (notably the novel ''A Boy's Own Story'') 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

“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 (starred review)

“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 (starred review)

“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

“[White] retained a keen appreciation for the varieties of affection, which is gracefully displayed here. Lively sketches of James Merrill, Susan Sontag, Robert Mapplethorpe, and others are occasionally sharp as well as fond, but White's candor extends equally to his own doubts and failures.” ―New Yorker

“So witty, so insightful, so bristling with gossip, that one almost fails to notice that it is an essential chronicle of a revolution in many ways no less important than the fall of Communism: the gay liberation movement, in which White was both an actor and a privileged spectator…In one of his many discourses on friends famous -- Jasper Johns, Peggy Guggenheim, James Merrill -- and otherwise, White described a now-forgotten novelist's book as lacking "that key, embarrassing literary quality no one knows how to discuss: charm." City Boy is full of it, even when discussing weighty topics.” ―Harpers

“The oral histories of Edmund White--who relives his decades-old glory days as a hobbing, nobbing City Boy.” ―Vanity Fair

“As someone who lived through the period and knew most of the people Ed White writes about, I was delighted to read his new book, City Boy. The charm and candor of his work has never been more apparent. I finished City Boy wanting still more--which is a rare reading experience.” ―Martin Duberman, author of Waiting to Land

“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

“In his 23 books, novelist and literary critic White has become one of the premier chroniclers of New York City intellectual life and the gay world…White unabashedly turns the pen on himself and the dozens of writers and artists he met in his years coming of age as a gay man in New York.” ―NY Post

“Edmund White's writing of the past quarter-century adds up to a story of inner life repressed and then bursting forth into full expressive flower, as well as a neat encapsulation of the history of gay subculture…He's eloquent on the horrific psychic cost of closeted gay identity, pre-Stonewall.” ―Washington Post

“[White] is a more highbrow Augusten Burroughs; a more sedate and scholarly David Sedaris…[City Boy] is an exquisitely written, devilishly detailed account of White's life in the City.” ―Huffington Post

“[An] exuberant, thoughtful memoir… White's affectionate yet candid portraits of literary celebrities Richard Howard, Harold Brodkey and Susan Sontag celebrate those friendships, with the eminences coming across as quite distinct from their forbidding pubic personas, even lovable…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. All fun aside, the gadabout boulevardier at some point had to take a back seat to the fiercely ambitious emerging writer. White's vivid analysis of his artistic struggles and literary progress during these years is like a master class for other writers…. White's memoir…has charm to burn.” ―Shelf Awareness

“Decades before Times Square looked like a trailer park filled with tourists in lawn chairs and real estate prices hit the stratosphere, New York was seedy and dangerous. But for a young gay man from the Midwest, it was also a refuge, full of possibility and excitement, where strangers became lovers with one furtive glance, as Edmund White evokes in his fascinating historical memoir City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s…like his novels, the portrait he paints is unflinching.” ―Modern Tonic

“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: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s' dispenses with the jaw-dropping lyricism of the books that made him famous (his beloved memoir ‘A Boy's Own Story,' especially) and replaces it with a didactic narrative flecked with powerful bits of insight, buried like chunks of brown sugar in a big pot of literary oatmeal…'City Boy' presents an exhilarating sketch of the grizzled, untamed and dangerous way of life that was New York in the 1960s and '70s… Surely [White] deserves a notable place in the pantheon of the artists and writers who populate his book, which serves as a testament to his talent and to the credibility he has laboriously built up in his years as a working writer…We're lucky for the pioneering work of White, his insistence on casting himself as a ‘gay' writer, even if it continues to harm his entry into the upper echelon of global literary talents…[City Boy] offers a valuable glimpse into the mind of an indispensable writer and critic, one whose obsessions -- with his city, with other artists, and especially with himself -- help to demystify a fascinating moment in culture and time.” ―Buffalo News

“Instead of imagining that far-fetched, science-fiction-based ideas like time machines will ever become a reality, most of us rely on books and movies to take us to places we will either never get to visit, or missed out on entirely. 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

“In his new memoir, "City Boy: My Life in New York in the 1960s and '70s" (Bloomsbury, $26), Princeton professor and novelist Edmund White vividly re-creates his 20 years as a journeyman writer in New York City, the rise of the gay liberation movement and the swirling social and literary scenes of four decades ago…[City Boy] is a chronicle of his uphill battle to get published and the explosion of the gay world in Manhattan that became so important to his writing. From the furtive male coupling of the early 1960s to the Stonewall riots and the euphoric pre-AIDS gay world of 1970s Greenwich Village, White provides a rollicking chronicle of a lost age. Along the way, White made himself into a prominent literary novelist and an openly gay man. Finally, he draws thrilling portraits of the important literary figures of the period, from the poets James Merrill and Richard Howard to the sharp-tongued, territorial Susan Sontag and the closeted writer Harold Brodkey.” ―Newark Star Ledger

City Boy fully evokes New York's gritty beauty. It's a treasure trove of period detail… Because City Boy is as thronged as New York, many of these [character portraits] must be sketches. One of White's gifts as a stylist is that, like Sargent in his watercolors, he can capture people quickly. The labor never shows, the effects are fresh, the brush strokes loose yet precise…White, through-out, never lets the shadows get too dark. His refusal to become bogged down in self recrimination seems of a piece, perhaps, with his greatest strength: an absolute rejection of the shame queer people have always been told they should feel. Some may think he's spent too long looking at himself. But for White the self is always social; well observed, it's full of other lives, endlessly lush and complex. In City Boy, the stories of these lives--and White's--are recounted with the literary quality he tells us he admires most: charm.” ―Lambda Literary Review

“Any writer's coming-of-age tale is bound to inspire would-be authors, but White's is particularly engaging, thanks to his bracing honesty about his despair, anxiety and impoverished existence…[The] deeply personal, idiosyncratic accounts of the bold-faced names White befriends as he builds his career are by far the most absorbing parts of City Boy.” ―Time Out New York

“A zesty breeze of a book depicting a broken-down, crime-ridden city where artists could actually afford to live. White's takes on its gay and literary scenes and his portraits of Susan Sontag, Robert Mapplethorpe and many others are funny, sharp and sometimes scurrilous.” ―Seattle Times

“After a series of unabashedly autobiographical novels, and a steamy 2006 memoir, My Lives, what is there left of Edmund White's life for Edmund White to mine? Plenty, as this delicious serving of homosexual dish demonstrates...White left New York for Paris in 1983, as AIDS was starting to decimate the demimonde he embraced. This gaily elegiac memoir is an elegant love letter to that time and place.” ―Queer Syndicate

“If really thoughtful, layered, dish-best-eaten-cold gossip isnt New York writing, what is? White has a true sense of the city.” ―Greil Marcus in Time Out New York

“Here's an X-rated, gay-hearted tour of a city of artists and writers and painters and lovers, all of them looking for happiness and love in a time when, as White points out, in some clubs every group of dancing men was required to include at least one woman. "A disco employee sat on top of a ladder and beamed a flashlight at a group of guys who weren't observing the rule." That's what White seems to be doing in this smart, gossipy roundup of all the men and ideas and good times and bad he danced with back then -- beaming his light.” ―Alan Cheuse on NPR.org

City Boy is a funny, gossipy scrapbook of White's years in Manhattan...his sketches of the little communities of friendship and love amid the Manhattan ruins are marvelous and moving...City Boy is a breezy and candid and deeply entertaining memoir of the bankrupt and crime-mad Lindsay- and Beame-era New York and the insanely creative who peopled it. More than that, it's a self-deprecatingly Proustian account (a weird combo, to be sure) of superserious literary ambition, his own and that of others. Genette famously wrote that the narrative of In Search of Lost Time could be summed up in four words: Marcel becomes a writer. City Boy updates that précis for the sucking-in-the-'70s New York. Ed becomes a writer.” ―Critical Mass


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608192342
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608192342
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #376,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Foster 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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I like this book because I am an old-time Edmund White fan from my youth. Edmund White was a published, out gay writer long, long before it was cool to be one. He was a pioneer in many ways and about the only published, literary, accessible and modern gay writer I could pick up in the bookstore. He was someone I could relate to back in the day, and I remain loyal to my favorite writers for life. If you follow certain writers, then it becomes necessary to collect all their books in order to understand and assimilate them into your pantheon of voices. For me, along with Gore Vidal, Mary Renault, Patrick O' Brian, Stephen King, and Robert Heinlein, there is Edmund White.

I get that some people won't like the book, because Edmund comes off as bitchy, gossipy and really lets his hair down in this book. If you want to learn about Edmund unfiltered, then this is the book for you. I don't really care about all that because I don't put writers on pedestals, and I already knew he was a human being and breathed and probably even farted from time to time. Ultimately though, Edmund the human being is appealing, a savvy literary insider, highly skilled in social engineering, who maneuvered himself into a lot of the right circles in the publishing and writing world, which explains to a great degree his success as a writer. Also, he flits from one idea to the next in a kind of stream of consciousness, a conversational style, as if he were sitting in the room smoking a mild and gentle joint of 1970's Colombian with you and telling you all about his life in New York in the 1960s and 1970s, unfiltered, just whatever pops into his head, and being as honest as he can without trying to put on a front. I like Edmund warts and all.
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Much of Ed White's recent output seems to consist of memoirs, literary criticism, and autobiography. This book weaves all three strands together in a mélange that is sometimes amusing, but too often comes off as bitter score-settling. Yes, White paid his dues by spending years in grinding poverty while awaiting literary fame. Yes, he met and worked with some famous people. But Gary Indiana called this book "hilariously untrue," and White DOES have quite a selective memory when it come to assembling his almost Dickensian tale of life in the Big City. Truth be told, a lot of what he says here, particularly his love/hate relationship with Susan Sontag, has been explored in his other writings. White peppers his book with annecdotes about the rich and famous, many of which are highly indiscreet (here he may be taking a cue from another gossipy New York society writer, Truman Capote). But after a while, White's account of being a witness to history wears thin. His acerbic tone grows tiresome, and his obsession with getting even with everyone in the academic world who ever crossed him just isn't very interesting to people outside of NY academia. He finally brings down the curtain by comparing New York to a theater in a constant state of refurbishment: always looking for the next big thing, and a little bit the worse for wear by the time it arrives. The same could be said of White's literary output; as the years go by, his literary publications grow more sporadic and less artful, and he is reduced to peddling society gossip and recounting his dubious sexual adventures.
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