by JOHN DICKER & r & Point To Point Navigation By Gore Vidal & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & G & lt;/span & ore Vidal has had as many careers as any public intellectual might want: activist, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, expatriate observer and all around celebrity whore. In his prime, he was known for his historical novels like Lincoln and Burr and his literary criticism. Nowadays he's known for political writing, which could be classified somewhere between far left and far nutty. (His Vanity Fair profile of Timothy McVeigh rendered him as a victim of the system. Uh huh.)
Point To Point Navigation is a flighty book that elicits a range of reactions, from irritation to incredulity to howls of laughter clearly unintended by our author. Yet however pompous and flip Vidal's voice, this is a fun book to dislike. So many of the sentences that inaugurate each short chapter (there are 56 in 272 pages) border on self-parody.
"I have now had a researcher prepare an outline of what I was writing and sometimes doing over the last forty years...."
"Although I answer letters from friends and even interesting requests for information, most of the fan mail goes into a large box which is eventually shipped off to the Houghton Library at Harvard... I've always kept just about everything that comes my way as did Lord Byron, Thomas Wolfe and not many others..."
Worse still, Vidal is mired in settling scores with critics you've never heard of in magazines you didn't read. While it's surely not fun to have misperceptions scribbled about you in The New Statesman, surely no one's been keeping score from 25 years ago.
What makes Point to Point readable is more complicated than that which makes it cringe worthy. Perhaps it's that Vidal doesn't write like he has to prove anything to anyone, so it's easy to accept him for who he is: a dissident, an anachronism and a font of celebrity gossip. There are also bits on the death of his longtime partner, Howard Auster, which redeem much of the book's ephemeral musings.
His professional life and the accident of his birth have granted Vidal access to the sort of people nobody who's still writing really knows. The fact that he's the son of a famous senator, related to Jackie Onassis, friends with Tennessee Williams, Paul Bowles, Johnny Carson, etc., renders the etiquette of name dropping somewhat, but not totally irrelevant.
And yet, one has to wonder if Vidal has ever, even once in his rich tenure, had a meaningful conversation with a person of no social consequence? Who knows what he might have learned?