As White narrates coming into his own as a writer, The Unpunished Vice grows into a veritable avalanche of interesting books and talented folk: the early admiration of Nabakov, the friendship of John Irving and Joyce Carol Oates, just to name a few, are all described here with wit and candor ... White visits his own books with the lightest of finger taps. Only when a solid correlation in another text, a stylistic point learned or a moment of inspiration, presents itself are we treated to the germinations of his own work, and then often with just a sentence or two ... As a memoir, The Unpublished Vice also serves as an important document chronicling gay literary history (more on that later). The characteristically generous dollops of advice also place this book on the books-for-writers shelf ... the commentary on literary relationships elevates The Unpunished Vice. The stories of nourishing artistic and intellectual camaraderie make the gift of a particular book all the more meaningful, the lessons learned applicable to life, not just the trade of telling tales ... The Unpublished Vice is an exquisite, winding staircase though the rich and varied library of an important writer’s readings; one that, like the very best books, delivers the reader to secret but familiar chambers seemingly—if only—without end.
White...is back with a new book-crazy memoir ... the delightful thing about it is the way White’s personal adventures and omnivorous reading habits intersect. Vice is funny, sexy and continually informed by White’s eagerness to drink down physical and cultural worlds in their entirety ... As Vice jumps from person to person and topic to topic, White keeps returning to the question of what makes fiction masterpieces work ... 'People interested in putting together a very restricted canon of great books don’t really like reading,' he advises us.
...what he cares about is giving the reader a sense of some of the authors he has enjoyed the most, and from whom he has learned the most ... White’s tone is conversational, and while his style is readable and the information is intriguing, the reader is tempted to wonder, 'Why bother?' But patience is a virtue, and in the last 30 pages, White gets down to the nature of the real vice, often punished by readers and critics—no longer covert or overt homosexuality but political ambiguity...White is proposing that moral and biographical complexity is worth a reader’s attention, even if he or she doesn’t agree with the writer’s politics.