Monday, November 19, 2012

The Fran Lebowitz Reader by Fran Lebowitz

Since Fran Lebowitz was going to be speaking in Edmonton as part of the University of Alberta's Festival of Ideas, my book club decided to make the event a group outing. Instead of choosing a specific book, we agreed to read anything by Lebowitz beforehand. It isn't a vast oeuvre: Metropolitan Life (1978) and Social Studies (1981) are it, basically. The two works were combined in The Fran Lebowitz Reader (1994).

Lebowitz also wrote a children's book, Mr Chas and Lisa Sue meet the Pandas, published in 1995. Allan Gregg interviewed Lebowitz on TVO some years ago (during the Clinton era) and asked about her interest in children's books. Lebowitz responded that she has always kept reading them, along with other books. I was pleased to learn that, since I don't know many adults, outside of parents and librarians, who regularly read children's literature. The whole interview is great, by the way. You can find it in iTunes, or else here on YouTube.

So anyway, it was Eleanor Wachtel from CBC's Writers and Company who interviewed Lebowitz live on stage in Edmonton a couple of days ago. Wachtel is one of my very favourite interviewers, but she was a bit off her game that evening. She asked Lebowitz about Tales from a Broad: An Unreliable Memoir. Lebowitz responded that not only had she not written that book, but would be unlikely to even read a book with that title. Turns out that it's a different Fran Lebowitz who wrote that one. A member of my book club had made the same mistake, since we had agreed to read anything by Lebowitz and she happened to pick that one on Amazon.

Lebowitz (the New York lesbian one, not the Unreliable Memoir straight one) writes witty social commentary. Because her books are old, the cultural references in them are dated: macrame, est, mood rings, using the word "artistic" as a euphemism for gay, etc. I enjoyed The Fran Lebowitz Reader in small doses, setting it down to read other things in between. Here are a few lines from the piece titled 'Children: Pro or Con?':

"Moving, as I do, in what would kindly be called artistic circles, children are an infrequent occurrence. But even the most artistic of circles includes within its periphery a limited edition of the tenaciously domestic. As I am generally quite fond of children I accept this condition with far less displeasure than do my more rarefied acquaintances."

"Notoriously insensitive to subtle shifts in mood, children will persist in discussing the colour of a recently sighted cement-mixer long after one's own interest in the topic has waned."

Martin Scorsese's feature-length documentary about Lebowitz, Public Speaking, is an even better way to get to know her than through her writings. But I'm happy to give her the last word:

"Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep."

Readalikes: Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde.

No comments: