cover image The Burning Library: Essays

The Burning Library: Essays

Edmund White. Knopf Publishing Group, $25 (386pp) ISBN 978-0-679-43475-7

White's collection, unified by sharp wit and seemingly boundless erudition, has a surprising drawback: his trademark elegance of style, which works well in his book reviews (a large portion of which are reproduced here) is less appropriate to his political rhetoric. In those pieces the edges seem sanded down by restrained prose, even as White describes his anger at the marginalization of gays since Stonewall and the oppression that gay people, including himself, ``no stranger to gay militancy,'' have traditionally faced from straight society. Yet when White assays literature, he nears perfection. His critiques of Tennessee Williams, Jean Genet, Coleman Dowell, James Jones, James Merrill, Cormac McCarthy and other writers are persuasive, especially when the authors discussed are White's friends or acquaintances. As readers of ``A Boy's Own Story'' and ``The Beautiful Room Is Empty'' will expect, White can be forcefully self-revealing; the autobiographical references are moving. But his writing on politics (he acknowledges his ``nearly total silence'' on AIDS) is insightful rather than inciting and seems to invite placid contemplation, not argument or action. Bergman is an English professor at Towson State University in Maryland. Reader's Subscription and QPB alternates. (Oct.)