Things are looking up, my friends. May is here, Justin Timberlake is in the MoMA and Lemonade is finally on Spotify. Vampire Weekend’s new album is out! Summer is in the air. The numbers on the weather app are creeping up, which could be a good or bad thing (good in Moscow, not so great in Dubai). NYC friends, better stock up on some breezy cotton dresses for those sweltering summer metro rides. On the bright side, we get rosé, iced coffee and bikini shopping at the front desk on the sly: the perfect summer cocktail recipe. What more could you need?
I’ll tell you what: a juicy book to dive into poolside, margarita in hand. In our 24/7 economy, vacations are few and far between. Naturally, we want to use them to totally escape work mode. Still, if you’re in the art industry, chances are art is your language, your religion, your raison d’être. It’s the sun (and sometimes, the black hole) at the center of the galaxy that is your life. It’s gravitational pull is so strong that even when you try to drift away, you’re kind of stuck.
What I’m trying to say is that you’re probably not going to pick up a book on, say, systems engineering in your free time. Not that you’re not smart or eclectic enough in your tastes—there’s many a Renaissance woman among us yet. But when everything in your life revolves around art, so will your reading material. Of course, if you do read books on systems engineering in your free time, you can ignore the rest of this article. Clearly, you have your shit figured out, and we all have mad respect and a tinge of jealousy for you.
For those of you that want to use your free summer moments to unplug your brain from the gallery but still keep it somewhat arty, here are five of our favorite arty beach reads. Breezy enough for Covergirl, sexy enough for a thirteen-year-old boy, smart enough for all you overeducated girlbosses, these books pair perfectly with a beach and your fruity beverage of choice.
I Love Dick is like Nora Ephron for the angsty intellectual. The semi-autobiographical account of one artist’s tangled love triangle with her husband and their casual acquaintance, Dick, I Love Dick is so much more than the tale of unrequited love that reviewers usually peg it to be.
Equal parts self-deprecating, self-aware, sarcastic and earnest, it’s a story about people with over-cultivated brains and under-cultivated hearts (sound familiar? me too). Chris and her husband, Sylvère, find themselves in the most cliché of all happy marriage traps: their spark is gone. They get by on a comfortable, intimate friendship, an intellectual connection that would make Sartre and de Beauvoir jealous, and routine, until someone arrives and fucks up their delicate equilibrium. That someone is Dick.
So far, nothing earth-shatteringly new. But it’s how all of the characters deal with Chris’ infatuation with Dick that makes this novel so outstanding.
I know I’m a little late on the bandwagon, but I only discovered Dick this spring. It was love at first sight. It’s been a while since a novel captured my imagination so fully—I felt like my pre-teen self, devouring Twilight in a single car ride.
I Love Dick came out in 1997, but it feels astonishingly timely in a post-#MeToo age. At times, it’s even hard to believe that this was written at the same time as Friends and Sex and the City. And as an added bonus, Kraus includes many rich references to art, theory and philosophy, peppering the narrative with mini-essays, including the best art criticism on Hannah Wilke you’ve ever read. But despite all the big words, don’t worry, it goes down easy, as beach reads should.
Don’t be fooled: this isn’t a corny airport novel about a woman who spends a year in Bali after a midlife crisis. Although to be honest, that book doesn’t even sound that bad.
Actually, the premise of My Year of Rest and Relaxation is as simple as it is weird. A pretty, rich and sad art girl believes life is meaningless and irritating, so she quits her gallery job and decides to sleep it off—for a year. When this book was first recommended to me, I’ll admit I wasn’t immediately sold. How do you fashion a compelling plot out of someone sleeping all the time? Yet somehow, Moshfegh does.
For all you nihilists and cynics (I know you’re out there because I follow your meme pages), this book will hit a little too close to home. A word of advice: don’t listen to this book on audio, like I did. The nameless narrator’s voice, flat and dripping with sarcasm, has a way of getting inside your head long after you hit pause. Creepy, yes, but also a sign of a powerful work of art.
No spoilers, but the redemption she finds at the end more than made up for the long hours you’ll spend inside the head of a disassociated, depressed girl who’s a little too similar to all of us for comfort. If you’ve ever felt like an alien who got dropped into a world of moronic robots, you’ll relate. Hard. But for those of you who still have your soul, read it for the hilarious, spot-on skewering of all the uncool jokers on the New York art scene.
Unless your heart is as cold and shrivelled as the narrator’s from My Year of Rest and Relaxation, this book will turn you into a giant marshmallow. And if it is, this is the book that’ll crack it wide open. It’s as mushy and sentimental as apple picking in the fall, as stunningly poetic as the lyrics of whatever band your first crush introduced you to.
Patti Smith’s memoir spans from her childhood through her years in New York living and making art with Robert Mapplethorpe. An ode to art itself, it speaks to the wannabe artist inside us all. Who working in the art industry can honestly say that they didn’t once dream of becoming an artist? While most of us took the more “practical” road of working for laughable pay in a precarious industry (ha), Robert and Patti followed their dream with childish, naïve steadfastness. It paid off.
Just Kids follows Robert and Patti around the gritty streets of ’70s New York, a myth unto itself, detailing their heartbreaks and headaches, as well as their ultimate triumphs. The story of two great artists becoming great, it’s a perfect gift for any young artist, guaranteed to help rekindle your passion for art. Pairs best with chardonnay and some big sunglasses—you’ll be sobbing by the second page.
If I could snoop any diary, it would be hard to find one juicier and transgressive than Anaïs Nin’s. Saying Anaïs Nin was a character is kind of like saying Jeff Koons is kind of controversial or Yayoi Kusama kind of likes polka dots. A massive understatement.
You might know her best as the author of all the erotica that you’d never admit to reading. (For all you Millennials, erotica is like porn, but in a book and with no pictures. Like Twilight without the vampires. Think Fifty Shades of Grey, but with actual literary merit.)
Actually, Nin was much, much more than the author of some damn good erotica. Talk about a girl boss. The woman juggled two husbands (one on each coast!) with a steady lover (who happened to be Henry Miller) and countless flings on the side with her career as a novelist, writer and sometimes psychoanalyst. She was leaning in and having it all way before it was trendy.
Her journals read like a case study in passion: despite her sometimes questionable morals (there’s a lot of cheating), Nin’s heart is in the right place. Whatever you think of her life decisions, you gotta respect her impressive lust for life. In Fire, one of her few unexpurgated diaries, her musings on love, life and art blend intellect and intuition (with a little mid-century vintage psychoanalytic speak). It’s a page-turner.
Never mind what you think of actual Hollywood, Eve’s Hollywood is one of those books that will make you fall in love with the place. Or rather, you’ll fall in love with the Hollywood of Babitz’s imagination, a place that doesn’t exist anymore and never did, a place that exists only in psychic space.
The subject of Lili Anolik’s new biography, Hollywood’s Eve (you bet your ass I pre-ordered), Eve Babitz is a rare breed, a real Californian. Born and raised under the Southern California sun, she spent her youth traipsing around the Sunset Strip, sleeping with the likes of Ed Ruscha and Jim Morrison (the song L.A. Woman is about her), taking nudes with Marcel Duchamp, designing album covers for the Byrds and Buffalo Springstein, and writing for Vogue, Cosmopolitan, The Village Voice, and Rolling Stone.
I don’t recommend this book lightly. Actually, Eve’s Hollywood saved my life one summer. I was stuck in LA and not too pleased about it, stressed from all the driving and depressed at my pointless internship. Eve taught me that life is best lived with a light touch, a very necessary lesson for all you type-A workaholics who treat everything, from major career moves to what to watch on Netflix, like it’s the end of the world. Eve will teach you that everything in life, even the end of the world, is a party and you should dress accordingly. Arrive fashionably late, raid the buffet, and preferably get laid at the end. That’s all there is to it.
A sexy hedonist who hangs out with art people and rock stars, Eve Babitz isn’t your Sheryl Sandberg type of feminist role model, but she’s an art world feminist role model nonetheless. I’ll tell you why—she loved men but didn’t need them; she proved that a woman could have great boobs and write great sentences; she was blonde and wore short dresses and had tons of fun without worrying that she wouldn’t be taken seriously as a writer. In short, she didn’t give a fuck about anything society said she should be.
In our hyper-political, hyper-PC time, it can be either refreshing or offensive to read someone so detached from the political world. But you could choose to read Eve’s Hollywood as a manifesto for freedom, for live and let live, the easy West Coast life that should be within everyone’s reach by birthright. Or, you could just read it as a story about a girl who partied a lot or didn’t read the news. But if you want a dark but insightful exposé of the underbelly of modern politics, maybe you should just read The New Yorker.
Text by Katya Lopatko
Images via @mikyscott, @thebookishbohemian, Tumblr, Ebay, @scaryscaryaeries, @walmart_jean_shorts, @dalyabenor.