Edmund White: TOP TEN BOOKS


White has done more than any other author in establishing the idea of a gay literary tradition in American fiction, particularly with seminal novel, A Boy’s Own Story, published in 1982. As well as his autobiographical works, including The Beautiful Room is Empty, and The Farewell Symphony, he has written biographies of Genet, Proust, and Rimbaud.

Below are Edmund White’s favorite books, available to purchase as a set or individually.



Vladimir Nabokov
This book would probably be shunned today. Even though Humbert Humbert is clearly a villain, the very subject of pedophilia is now considered too transgressive. But Nabokov had to reach far in order to redeem the romantic novel, which had become trite.
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Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy
Probably the greatest novel ever written for its psychological and sociological accuracy over a wide range of characters. My favorite scene occurs when Anna, the day after she meets Vronsky, gets out of her train at a country station in a snowstorm-and runs into Vronsky!
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A Single Man

Christopher Isherwood
The breakthrough gay novel in which the main character, George, is shown as out and integrated into straight society and Isherwood makes no effort to explain "how he got that way."
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Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time vol. 1

Marcel Proust
In the last ten years this magnum opus has eclipsed Ulysses as the most influential novel of the 20th century. Proust is wonderfully companionable, his analyses of passion and snobbism and the corroding effect of time are devastating, but despite his philosophical gloom his rich, intelligent prose is exhilarating. He and George Eliot are the most intelligent of all authors.
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Our Lady of the Flowers

Jean Genet
Like Nietzsche, Genet believed in the "transvaluation of all values", by which bad is good and the ugly is beautiful. Whereas most writers treated homosexuality as a disease, Genet took the stronger position in linking it with evil and crime and sin. He invented the drag queen for literature in Divine in this novel.
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The Makioka Sisters

The deepest and most thrilling of all Japanese novels, which embodies the refined sensibility and historical burden of a nation just on the cusp of World War II. The novels of Kawabata, the Nobel prizewinner, are also dear to my heart, especially the Sound of the Mountain.
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Ezra Pound
Nothing is more beautiful than these "translations" from the Chinese, especially "An Exile's Letter" and "The River Merchant’s Wife".
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The Phaedrus

In which the philosopher argues how best to love a boy and discusses rhetoric, among other things.
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I've read most of the 80-some novels of this superb sensualist, who knows everything about flowers, pets and men, but this is her most satisfying novel as a plot and a portrait.
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The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Richard Flanagan
This is a recent Booker-winning novel with Tolstoyan ambitions that presents the horrors inflicted on Australian prisoners of war by the Japanese during World War II in Burma - and then turns around and gives us a compassionate portrait of the defeated Japanese. A book distinguished by its big heart and beautiful language.
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