Literary Losses

We’ve entered the most hectic of the hectic days – those just before Christmas. Despite mutating pestilences, we have, again, managed to get the world ready just in time before the holidays, and can finally start stressing about the real question: how many books from Barack Obama’s 2021 favourites list did we read this past year?

This Yuletide has begun with some sadness: the past week the world has lost two important literary figures. Feminist activist, theorist, professor and writer bell hooks passed away on 15 December. She had a huge influence on the discussion around race, gender and class especially in the US, but her work resonated around the world. For a beginner I can recommend her classic from the 80s: Feminist Theory – From Margin to Center. In it she argues how mainstream feminism relies heavily on spokeswomen who mainly represent white and middle-class women. This is of course timely reading also now, as the fourth wave thrust the intersectionality very much to front and center of the feminist debate.
hooks adopted her pen name from her great-grandmother, and put it in lowercase letters in order to “convey that what is most important to focus upon is her works, not her personal qualities: the “substance of books, not who I am.”

I have written about hooks earlier, and this masters of feminist writing post shall also be your last-minute Christmas gift shopping list. You’re welcome.
Except that there’s also another one on feminist writers’ hall of fame. Maybe for your birthday?

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We also lost Eve Babitz, another literary and cultural powerhouse. I wrote about her biography and works earlier, and for those unfamiliar with Babitz’s work, herewith a teaser (it also conveniently comes with links to posts about Babitz’s other books) :

I read a biography of Eve Babitz, written by Vanity Fair contributing editor Lili Anolik, so it was going to be a glamorous do. I am known to have a semi-official obsession with Eve Babitz and her something of an arch-nemesis, Joan Didion, and their literary descriptions of sex, drugs & rock’n roll California of the 60s and 70s they became famous for. I admire their writing and so was not sure exactly what new “Hollywood’s Eve” could possibly bring. Turns out, the book was a bit like the anarchic sister of Tina Brown’s autobiography about her life in journalism and the mad Eighties in Manhattan.

Hollywood’s Eve was an entertaining ride – Babitz herself had contributed to the writing process with interviews and anecdotes, so it gave the text a nice, endorsing touch.  Babitz’s own oeuvre is overall very soundbite-y, and also Anolik laces her text with hilarious one-liners:
What to wear when taking cocaine on acid? A Finnish cotton caftan (admittedly more hilarious for the Finnish readership I admit).
What is the reason for Keith Richards’s not dying? He doesn’t mix his drugs.
A need to know tidbit: Eve Babitz’s sister Mirandi was behind clothing Jim Morrison in the skintight, deliciously thin leather trousers. Her clothing brand handmade the trousers of soft brown cowhide, so dainty it was actually meant for making gloves

(I have no idea why I was so impressed by this fact, but here it is, and the pants are on display at the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood)

Again, I warmly recommend reading both Babitz and Didion. I wrote about them two years ago in “The Vintage Party Girls” and “Party Girls Die in Pearls“. They didn’t much like each other when they were the hot shit in California. Frankly their decades old, bygone literary feud is the only one I can feign interest in caring about, as the world around me continues to sink into the hellhole of its own making.

May she rest in peace, and may her literary nemesis Joan Didion have many a happy return still.

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