Is there anything that can destroy the fun of reading more than a book club? I don't know about you, but nothing makes me want to read a book less than if I feel like it's been assigned to me. I mean, for me, being a writer is already sort of like being a full-time student in that I am constantly doing work at home at crazy hours and I subsist pretty much on caffeine and potato chips and other things that are undeniably bad for me. It's unhealthy, it really is. But so, book clubs. Book clubs only add to the feeling that I have never really advanced past the point in my life when I was taking a colloquium on American Modernist Literature and would purposely take the opposite point of view of whatever this one really annoying girl in my class thought about whatever book we were reading no matter what I actually thought of the book itself. Book clubs are just like that. I find it impossible not to be totally contrarian and rip apart other people's readings of, like, The Secret History or The Emperor's Children or other similarly beloved but terrible books. I kind of ruin everything.
But maybe the problem isn't me. Haha, just kidding. The problem is usually me. But also, maybe the problem is just the nature of the book clubs that I attend. Maybe I need something a little less conventional when it comes to book clubs. Maybe I need something like Brooklyn's nudie book club, which is called, appropriately, the Topless Pulp Fiction Club, to shake things up a bit. Or, you know, maybe not. When it comes down to it, I don't think I'm really the topless book club type. But I totally approve of its existence because it's sort of reignited my interest in the process of choosing books to read while in a book club. The Daily News reports that the Topless Pulp Fiction Book Club (pictures at the link are maybe mildly NSFW) mostly reads pulp fiction, hence the name, but has also been known to dive into "Steinbeck and Faulkner, ‘The Hunger Games’ and Anais Nin, ‘Lolita’ and ‘House of Leaves.’" Which, these are all good choices, but I think there are even better choices for a topless book club. I mean, I love As I Lay Dying as much as James Franco probably does, but there's something not quite appropriate about reading and discussing the sentence "My mother is a fish," while lying topless in the grass in Prospect Park, skin gleaming in the sun like so many, well, fish scales. Anyway, if I were to join a topless book club, here are the 5 books that I would want to discuss, while topless.
Gigi and The Cat by Colette
These two novellas are perfect for a book club, especially a topless one, because both deal with themes of female empowerment and both deal with the issue of the female body as property not only of men, but also of society as a whole. And because both stories focus so strongly on women's issues, I think they would lead to lively discussions and a healthy amount of internal book club dissent. Plus, you'd get to talk about that scene where Gigi goes through Aunt Alicia's jewelry, which is one of my favorite parts, evocative as it is of the Museum of Natural History's Hall of Gemstones aka my favorite place in the entire world. And then when reading "The Cat," your book club can discuss whether or not it is inherently cruel for a man to tickle a woman. I say yes, and I think Colette agrees with me based on this passage in the story, "'There's nothing to laugh about!' cried Camille. 'I've always been told that men who tickle women are vicious. They might even be sadists.'"
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
Oh, god, I love this book and think it's the absolute perfect book club book, topless or not. But because it is a book that's very invested in the body and sex and desire—“Desire is no light thing”—it is absolutely one that benefits from being read by people who are very clearly so invested in the ideas of the body and sex and desire that they became members of a topless book club. So, but also, it's a refreshing book because there aren't really any women in it. And the main character is a monster. A winged monster. Oh, just read it, topless or not. Read it bottomless. I don't care. I mean, it's just so exquisite—“Under the seams runs the pain.” It doesn't get any more honest than that.
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
Ok, so reading this book is absolutely mandatory if you're in a topless book club. You can't just be in a topless book club without thinking about the underlying reasons of why the mere existence of a topless book club is a troubling thing to society. Be smart about it. And the smartest thing to do is read this book by Chris Kraus which so completely deals with every issue that being a member of a topless book club brings up. I mean, sample quote: “Why does everybody think that women are debasing themselves when we expose the conditions of our own debasement? Why do women always have to come clean?...Isn’t the greatest freedom in the world the freedom to be wrong?” Plus, this is kind of the perfect book for people to see you reading as you lie naked in the grass. It's also an excellent book to bring on the subway if you like to watch people squirm. Which, let's face it, you do, don't you? Of course you do. We all do.
Faithfull: an Autobiography by Marianne Faithfull
So, once, when I was pretty young, I was watching something on VH1 titled something like "The 100 Best Women in Rock and Roll" or whatever and #73 or something was Marianne Faithfull. I immediately fell completely in love with her, because I'm not stupid, and so I clearly remember Keith Richards being interviewed by VH1 and his comments about Marianne were very complimentary to her music. His comments were also complimentary toward Marianne's breasts. I'm paraphrasing, all these years later, but Keith said something along the lines of "She had the best tits in the business." So! Is this the only reason that I'm recommending her autobiography? Absolutely not. I love this book and practically consider it my bible. Marianne had an amazing life full of convent school, music, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, heroin addiction, and much, much more. Plus, she's funny and self-aware and is not afraid to spill a lot of dirt on a lot of famous figures from the 60s. I mean, this is the woman that inspired "Wild Horses." WILD HORSES. She's so epic. Read it.
After Claude by Iris Owens
Hmmm...I think I've recommended this book before, but I have no problem recommending it again, because it's the kind of book that you can't recommend enough because almost nobody I know has ever even heard of it. The author, Iris Owens, is wickedly funny and, prior to writing this book, wrote pornographic novels for an erotic press based out of Germany. Which, German porn does not mess around. So you know that Owens is pretty sex-positive. This book is dark and funny and cruel and has a truly insane, narcissistic narrator named Harriet, and it will be fun in your book club to see who identifies with Harriet and who does not. Those that do are clearly quite damaged and, therefore, are probably the most fun to get drunk and do wild and fucked-up things with—things like having a topless book club, you know? Anyway, enjoy this book. It's impossible not to, unless you're dull and humorless. And you're not, are you? No. I didn't think so.
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