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If you borrow this book, you have to return it: Michelle Tea.

March 29, 2011 \pm\31 12:00 pm

[For this series, I’ve asked many wondrous writers to reflect on an individual copy of a book that is very important to them. Writers and publishers have varied and often impassioned relationships to their analog books, as actual books are still arguably the “realest” physical manifestation of their poetic pursuits. I think that as the Kindle and other digital representations of text continue their upward spiral, it’s important to reflect on books as the uniquely funky-smelling, emotion-provoking, paper-cutting, dust/coffee/spaghetti sauce-collecting artifacts that they are! Check back next week for more top picks!]

I should probably get this book cover tattooed on me at some point, I love it so much. Violette Leduc was a contemporary of Jean Genet and Simone de Beauvoir and all those guys. She was in that scene but on the outside, too, and had a lot of longing and insecurity and self-loathing because she was so queer – really, what I get from her books, which are mainly memoir, is that she was a butch dyke in a place and time where there was really just nothing to do with that. I mean there were fags, Genet and Cocteau, but not lesbians. Paris in the 40s. There were all those dykes in the cafes that Brassai was photographing, but Violette was in the literary world. She like an interloper, in another place and time she would be Valeria Solanis. She had relationships with men and then with women, and the women would try to get her to dress femme and go shopping and it just seemed so miserable. Again I think of other places and times and come up with Gia Carangi, the model who was such an addict and died of HIV, and how she too was masculine gendered in this sphere that didn’t want her to be and the results were tragic. It’s so sad how femme genderqueered people had all this glamour – queens, Candy Darling, you know, and the butches were just seen as these ugly little things and pushed away. Or managed – Gia could be so masculine because that’s hot in a model, but reign it in. Anyway.


Therese and Isabelle is like so outtake from her longer memoir La Batard, which for so long I thought meant The Bastard but duh it means The Bread. Right? La Batard goes from her rural French upbringing and her shitty relationship with her mom to falling in love with another girl at boarding school to being in Paris during the war and making money selling butter on the black market. Therese and Isabelle is the boarding school love affair. It’s so intense! Very Heavenly Creatures. You know, when girls get together at that age it’s dangerous cause they’re so crazy.


“Let’s die together Isabelle, let’s die while you are me and I am you. Then I’ll never think about us being separated again. Let’s die, shall we?”


“No. I don’t want to die. I want this. I want to be deep inside you. Dying . . . that’s so stupid.”


Like, totally! It goes on, with Therese codependently asking Isabelle if she would leave her if she had leprosy, and other such concerns. It’s very French, is it not? When I went to Paris I finally felt like I was in a culture I could have mutual understanding with, because everything was so crazed and emotional all the time, like people making out in the supermarket and at parties someone would inevitably end up in tears and the others would gather around and hug the tearful person and murmur to them in French and hand them cigarettes. I felt very safe and normal in such a culture.


I got this book at the Brattle Book Shop, an antiquarian book store in Boston where I worked for a month or so in 1999. I had gotten a cash writing award just as my life was falling apart with alcohol and romance, so I moved to Boston, ostensibly to work on a book but really just to drink with different people. Even though I had money I woke up every morning in a panic because I didn’t have a job and didn’t know how to do that. My life was so unstructured, I would start doing jello shots with my roommate at noon. Another friend said the Brattle was looking for temporary workers to help with the big sale they had each year and they could pay me cash so I did it. It was great to have a place to report to and be submerged in other people’s books – to be a reader, so not to have to worry about being a writer. I culled a stack of books I wanted as I cleaned and organized the shelves. I found Edmund White’s Genet which is one of my favorite books. I had read La Batard, I learned about it first from an ex girlfriend who was making a lesbian graphic novel where the main character was always reading it on the subway. Then Eileen Myles was into her. Finding this book was like a jewel. Because it was so pretty and stylish and so collectible. I felt very lucky to have found it. I always feel lucky when I find one of Violette Leduc’s books. I found Mad in Pursuit at Green Apple in San Francisco, that one is juicy, her meeting Jean Genet, her obsession with Simone de Beauvoir, her start as a writer. The Woman with the Little Fox is a sad little novella about a tattered old Parisian woman and I found a translation of that at Shakespeare and Co. in Paris.


There’s a soft core porn film, made from Therese and Isabelle that I’ve never seen but it looks so awesome really, all gauzy and late 60s erotic. I sort of can’t believe I haven’t seen it. I think I need to have a viewing party.

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  1. Book pick for the WEEK! « Phillybookpick's Blog

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