God, I miss the library. Specifically the weekly thrill of a delivery of orders arriving, the greedy reward for spending so much time stalking the catalogue. With my beloved library out of reach for the foreseeable future (sob), I’ve taken drastic measures – I’ve raided my bookshelves for something, anything, to distract myself from reality.
After falling down a rabbit hole of “How do I own three copies of Valley of the Dolls?” I emerged clutching a stack of books I first bought at a very specific time in my life and haven’t been sucked into the pages of since. You don’t need to be an armchair psychiatrist to analyse why my book choices are all from a better, less anxious time. Needless to say, if you want to escape the present moment, you could do a lot worse than escaping into books you last loved as an awkward teenager.
Here’s my current* pandemic reading list: (*to be updated if this goes on longer)
Nora Ephron – I Feel Bad About My Neck
Confession: I’ve never gotten Nora Ephron. Or should I say, the devotion Ephron inspires. Sure, I’ve read Heartburn, and I made the pilgrimage to Katz’s Deli to “have what she’s having.” But Ephron never entered my list of writers I want to be. I first read this book in my 20s so admittedly a book about ageing and all that comes with it was probably lost on me. Not anymore!
Bret Easton Ellis – Less Than Zero
I love 80s literature – Story of my Life and Slaves of New York are two of my favourite books. Despite being a millennial and a card-carrying member of Generation Wuss, my love of 80s fiction also includes Bret Easton Ellis. While I was an angsty and confused college student, I chewed through his work, with Less Than Zero making the biggest stylistic impression on my budding writing skills (I also related to Blair, the protagonist’s cool blonde girlfriend, a bit too much). I’m sure it’ll make just as big of an impression on this angsty and confused adult.
Elizabeth Wurtzel – Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women
A predecessor to the contemporary, pop culture-infused feminism we know and love today, Bitch is Elizabeth Wurtzel’s tome to women who refuse to play the game. A dense read to say the least, each page has a head-spinning number of references, with everyone from OJ and Nicole to Drew Barrymore and Hillary Clinton making a cameo. When Wurtzel did an AMA on Reddit, someone said (paraphrasing!) “Bitch reads like it was written by someone on speed” and Wurtzel replied “it was.” Indeed!
Pamela des Barres – I’m With the Band
Jagger, Morrison, Page – Miss Pamela’s definitive tale of debauchery is a Who’s Who of rock’s heyday. Forget the groupie glory days and backstage trysts, I’m With the Band is more than a sleazy kiss ‘n tell (in fact, Des Barres keeps her lips sealed about the smutty details) and what you get is a coming of age tale about an unsure young music lover trying to figure it all out. Who can’t relate to that?
Keith Richards – Life
Speaking of Mick Jagger, a few months ago (God, it seems like years ago) I read Marianne Faithfull’s first memoir and I fell a bit in love with Keith Richards. Go on, judge me. First time I read Keef’s own autobiography the standouts for me were how incredibly driven the Stones were to succeed (case in point: if you left rehearsal to see your girlfriend, you were considered a traitor) and, of course, every description of the goddess Anita Pallenberg, who really deserves her own biography/movie at this stage.
F Scott Fitzgerald – The Last Tycoon
It’s 100 years since Fitzgerald’s first foray into literary history with This Side of Paradise, but, born contrarian that I am, I’ll be picking up his last book, not his first. The Last Tycoon tells the tale of movie maestro Monroe Stahr (based on real-life movie mogul Irving Thalberg) and it is a must for lovers of Old Hollywood glamour and scandal. Unfinished at the time of Fitzgerald’s death, many think The Last Tycoon would’ve been Fitzgerald’s best work, and I have to agree with them.
Candace Bushnell – Trading Up
If I had to list the books I’ve reread the most in my life, Candace Bushnell’s Trading Up would rank pretty high on the list. Forget what the Goodreads reviews say – this glam tale about OTT underwear model Janey Wilcox and her nobody-get-in-my-way quest to the top has everything you could ask for in a novel about fame, showbiz, and ambition. I’m talking back-stabbing antics, sleazy affairs, dashing polo players, despicable men in suits, glamorous models and socialites, yacht girls and dark secrets …will I keep going? How has this never been made into a trashy movie? A crime!
Eve Babitz – Slow Days, Fast Company
Maybe it’s the bubbly prose or the glamorous scenes she describes or a heady combination of both but reading Eve Babitz makes me want to go somewhere; a vodka-laced art party with the Ruscha brothers, a road trip to 70s California’s best vineyards, somewhere. So reading Eve Babitz during a lockdown situation where our options are limited, well, that’s a special type of self-punishment. But I can’t resist. Lili Anolik, author of the definitive Babitz biography Hollywood’s Eve (read it!) and the person we can thank for putting Babitz back on the literary map, is correct – Slow Days… is a masterpiece. Eve Babitz makes the parking lot of the Chateau Marmont sound glamorous. She’s that good.
JD Salinger – Franny and Zooey
A few years ago I was asked at a job interview what my favourite book is and I said Franny and Zooey. I did not get the job. I guess short stories about precocious kids turning into depressive adults and impending nervous breakdowns on your mother’s sofa don’t exactly scream “hire me!” to HR. Their loss.
Truman Capote – Breakfast at Tiffany’s
From the Givenchy-clad Audrey eating fried food to George Peppard’s writer-who-doesn’t-write, Blake Edwards’ classic 1961 movie is one of my all-time favourites. Capote’s short-but-sweet novella is pretty different from the silver screen adaptation (spoiler: she’s a call girl) but still a glorious read. Side note: I once read that Capote wanted Marilyn to play the part of the parvenu, so if you think of Monroe when you’re reading this book, you’ll adore Golightly even more.