Saturday, June 14, 2008

Havanas in Camelot: Personal Essays by William Styron

Before he died in 2006, William Styron selected fourteen of his essays for a volume reflecting his lighter side. Of course, Havanas in Camelot is still very frank and confessional, for he was a man of strong opinions willing to take on anyone in a debate. Still, he succeeded in avoiding the topic of depression to celebrate the mostly good times of his life.

The title essay ran in Vanity Fair in 1996. In it Styron tells about his brief acquaintance with President John F. Kennedy. Through White House friends Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and Richard Goodwin, he was invited to a state dinner and later to the more intimate gathering afterwards. The President was very interested in Styron's upcoming book about rebel slave leader Nat Turner. The author admired how the President could enjoy Cuban cigars at a time when he himself had made them illegal.

The second essay in the volume is "A Case of the Great Pox." You might wonder how he might lightly regard an episode in his life when he was mistakenly told that he had syphilis, but he portrayed himself as a raw nineteen year old recruit confined in a military hospital by a judgmental Navy doctor who wanted to see him suffer for his sins. He was quite happy to learn that he only had a dental disease. To his dying days he harbored a wish to again expose the bad doctor for his terrible bedside manner, as he had in the New Yorker in 1995.

My favorite essays are a series of tributes that Styron wrote about friends and acquaintances that had died, including Truman Capote, James Baldwin, and Terry Southern. There is also a revealing previously unpublished piece about joy and utility of walking a dog.

Readers who enjoyed Styron's previous books or who want a look into the literary world of the 1950s and 1960s will enjoy this quick read.

Styron, William. Havanas in Camelot: Personal Essays. Random House, 2008. ISBN 9781400067190

1 comment:

Steph said...

Hello: I fell upon your blog by serendipity, and am all the better for it. I love the concept of the book review (librarian style); and your blog about the gardens in your church. Thank you very much. I live in Chicago and I go to 4th Presbyterian on Michigan Avenue. We too have a nice (but small) garden. :)