Book Notes

Meeting Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal at age 23 (photo: Carl Van Vechten)

Gore Vidal died on July 31, 2012, and much has been written about him since. Some have retold the story of his infamous on-air argument with William F. Buckley Jr., while others have discussed his sexual preferences.

I once had the pleasure of meeting Gore Vidal. The man I encountered was brilliant, well spoken and immaculately mannered.

The scene is Beverly Hills, Calif., 2005: Vidal was lecturing at a local bookstore to a hushed audience. He later answered questions and mediated a spirited group discussion.

At the time, the Bush administration indictments and the Scooter Libby affair about CIA leaks were in the news. The media speculated about whether Karl Rove would be the next to be indicted. Oddly enough, this current event wasn’t discussed. So afterward, I approached Vidal and asked his opinion about the fate of Karl Rove.

“He’s headed for the dustbin, my dear. They’re all headed for the dustbin.”

“The dustbin of history?” I asked, referring to the Trotsky quote.

“Yes, precisely.” Gore answered while flashing me his trademark sideways grin.

The last lion of postwar literature, Vidal published dozens of books of fiction, nonfiction, essays, and plays. He is equally known for his political commentaries. As critic and gadfly, his observations were served up with a clarity and razor wit that hearkened back to the old Republic that Vidal longed for and to the era of Enlightenment that valued tolerance and human dignity over intolerance and war profiteering.

Vidal never let any of our elected leaders off the hook. Throughout the decades, he tirelessly protested wars that he described as unjust and lacking a clear benefit to the American citizenry. Vidal lamented the replacement of public policy with commerce and leadership with political agendas.

His deliberately provocative style seems radical until we remember that ultimately, Vidal is an American traditionalist. Mark Twain also touted the notion that the government should act as an engine driving the needs of the people. In our era, Vidal causes us to wonder when the concept of true representation
became antiquated.

Like Mark Twain, Gore Vidal’s wit and insight will never become outdated or relegated to the dustbin of history. Vidal will remain as a singular voice of our times.

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Sharon Anderson is an artist and writer in Southern California. She can be reached at