I often write about death in this space. I’ve paid tribute to astronauts, rappers, rock stars, ballplayers, and even people I never knew. And there has to be a reason that I go to, and write about, estate sales as much as I do. Death is an important part of life, and to be fully aware of how exhilarating it is to be alive, we must remember that everyone’s time on this earth will one day run out.
One group of people I’ve yet to honor is writers. I love to write, and consider myself to be a writer at heart, even if I don’t exactly have that as my job title. People who use their ability with words have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. And yet, the deaths of Ray Bradbury and others in the literary realm haven’t moved me to put a few words together on their behalf. I told a personal story after Maurice Sendak’s passing, but didn’t connect it to writing in any meaningful way. So now’s my chance to remedy that.
Gore Vidal was a writer from the days before television came in and sucked out whatever impulses we may have for reading. Yes, we have people like Steven King and J.K. Rowling and John Grisham, who can write books that people will want to read, or at least go and see the film adaptation of their books. But by and large, superstar authors are hard to find anymore. Ours is a culture where celebrities can attach their names to books (and here’s exhibit A on that score), but authors who do nothing more than write books are another story (no pun intended).
People read Vidal’s books, and his words were always worth the time to read them. His passing is a blow to writing generally, because I’m hard pressed to think of somebody else with his stature when it comes to putting words onto a page or–more likely in these days–onto a screen of some kind. I’m not intending to slight anyone who might actually have such stature, but I honestly don’t know who else is in that league that Vidal occupied.
Abraham Lincoln, who knew a thing or two about great writing, once remarked that “writing is the great invention of the world.” Vidal took this invention and ran with it, and he leaves behind a legacy that few can match. But the great thing about that legacy is that it lives on, so that others who are not yet born might someday open up Burr or Lincoln or 1876 and get something from it. And I would suggest that’s the best thing any writer can hope for.