Monday, January 7, 2008

All About Eve (Babitz)


Culturally, LA has always been a humid jungle alive with seething LA projects that I guess people from other places can’t see. It takes a certain kind of innocence to like LA, anyway. It requires a certain plain happiness inside to be happy in LA, to choose it and be happy here.
- Eve’s Hollywood, by Eve Babitz

I’m a binge reader. Though this habit had been dormant for so long that I’d been unintentionally on the wagon until my friend Janet mentioned the library. For the past year, I’ve been in a read-everything-about-LA mood, and she recommended Eve Babitz. I hopped on Amazon, only to discover that all her terrific early stuff is out of print. I started scouting my favorite used book sites when Janet asked me why I didn’t just go to the library. Why, indeed? I loved the library when I was a kid, but I confess, I hadn’t been to one in years, inexcusable for a bookaholic, and even more so since my Fairfax branch reopened recently in a gorgeous new Spanish mission-style building just a few blocks from my house. I drove over and got myself a card (my old one had expired), and ordered up Eve’s Hollywood; Slow Days, Fast Company; and Sex & Rage. I had them all within a week. I had them read before the following week was out.

I ADORE binge reading. In my early twenties, during my first years working at the Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, I overdosed regularly: Anita Brookner, Margaret Drabble, Laurie Colwin, MFK Fisher, etc. etc. etc. But I hadn’t done this in ages, and my bender with Eve brought back all that old intoxication---the red wine I drank while I read her helped. Eve Babitz is brilliant, and the fact that she’s gone out of print somehow solidifies for me her brilliance all the more in these days of soap suds women’s memoirs; just because something bad happened to you, doesn't mean you have an interesting story to tell; you need to be an interesting writer, as well. Sure, she can be all over the board with style, but when it comes to insight, she is the premier LA writer. I have nothing but the greatest respect for Joan Didion, and I think Nathaniel West and John Fante are tops, but Eve gets LA more than anyone else I’ve ever read.

I don’t care that she slept with Jim Morrison. I don’t care about her nude photo playing chess with Marcel Duchamp. I care that this girl can write like nobody’s business. She’s courageous. She’s not coy. She’s a chick, but you’d never put her in a pink dust jacket (I hate it that chicks and pink are now forever associated with one another), not even a pink straightjacket. She’s grammatically correct, even when writing about things that have nothing correct about them. And, yes I know I already mentioned this, she genuinely gets LA, mainly, I think, because she doesn’t see LA as someplace/something “to get,” like most other writers who tackle the subject.

Recently, I read a book, which shall remain nameless, in which the author moved to L.A. and wrote a book about her experience. She has nothing good to say about LA, falling back on the whole derisive gambit that most writers like to employ when trying to capture this city that just isn’t capturable---this is why they do it, perhaps. To deflect from their inability to capture. In one section, she drives out to the Salton Sea, and I felt that the only reason she did this was to be able to flex her ability to "get" the desolation of the place. Yep, desolate it is, especially if that’s all you want to see.

Alternately, in Eve’s Sex & Rage, the main character Jacaranda observes: “She remembered that there was a petrified ocean, an ocean that was caught inland while the rest of the ocean departed. You could see down to the bottom, so far, absolutely clear turquoise, all the sea life that belonged in the ocean---starfish, sea anemone---things that didn’t belong in an inland body of water, a lake, which usually had trout or salmon. But the Salton Sea was absolutely clear and absolutely pure and absolutely patient … The Salton Sea didn’t move unless you touched it; it was unbidden by the moons, it had no tides, it lay there in perfect beauty, perfect stillness, out in the middle of the desert.” It takes bravery and brains to write like this.

There is such a satisfying intensity beyond the clich├ęs of LA. Everyone talks about the earthquake weather, for example. It’s de rigueur if you live here to know what earthquake weather is, and it’s a badge of honor when sometimes you’re even right about it … even though the odds are with you on taking that bet. But Eve, ah Eve, she sees it clearly for what it is: “She could feel the rancid tension in the air beneath the lopsided yellow moon’s malevolent regard. She could feel some kind of hazy snap, some uproar, about to happen. In Los Angeles it's called 'earthquake weather,' but Jacaranda knew earthquakes were just a metaphor for any out-of-control slant suddenly tilting beneath your feet."

Eve gets it because she’s not afraid to like this indescribable pocket. And she’s not afraid because it doesn’t occur to her that there’s anything to be afraid of in liking it. And she likes liking it, unlike most people I know here who reluctantly like it, or like it but don’t want to and so pretend not to, or just simply hate it. She’s decadent. She’s real. She's unfazed. She’s fresh more than thirty years after publication. Get yourself to the library and start with Slow Days, Fast Company. Then hop online and check out her Smithsonian Oral History Interview. Then mope until you find a new author to take you on another bender.

38 comments:

Janet Brown said...

Bravo! More please...

jmcvey said...

stumbled on your essay, whilst looking to see if there's appeared any new Eve Babitz book since my last search...

thanks, you said it well.

and to Eve, wherever you are, more please!

Kim said...

I'm eagerly awaiting anything new, too. Glad to know there are more fans out there ... she is underappreciated! Kim

Eileen said...

Great essay on Eve Babitz, which I stumbled upon while searching for more of her work- love everything she's written. And look forward to more, Eve, please?
And, are there any great vintage/thrift shops left in L.A.??

Kim said...

Hi Eileen,
Thanks so much. I love writing about good writers like Eve, though I scarcely have the time. Your comment encourages me ...
Kim

Alice said...

I also was just google searching Eve Babitz and came across your blog, I have just read LA Woman, and want to start it again! And another binge reader- after finishing I went and ordered all her other books!

I enjoyed your post, Alice

Kim said...

Dear Alice, I love all the Eve fans who find their way to this blog post. It's good to know that we're not alone out there in the world. Kim

carmela said...

Very nice Kim! I'm sorry it took me so long to get around to reading this. Great idea, too!

Jesi Khadivi said...

Babitz is one of my favorite authors. I'm thrilled to have stumbled upon such an articulate and insightful blog post...you've inspired me to re-read her books!

Kim said...

Eve deserves to be back in print. Glad to hear from another fan.

Wendy said...

I can't believe I found so many Eve Babitz fans! She is my favorite author, and I keep Sex and Rage on my night stand!

Kim said...

Hi Wendy,
"Slow Days, Fast Company" is my mainstay. I love connecting with Eve's fans.
Kim

formerlyAnon said...

Also stumbled across this post while googling to see if Ms. Babitz has published anything lately.

I lucked into the entire early Babitz in various used bookstores in the 80's & early 90's - have been hunting for years now to try to replace their hard-used pages with little (affordable) luck.

I still think "Sex and Rage" is one of the top ten all time titles.

Kim said...

I've gotten some good deals on her books from www.abebooks.com. Keep an eye out ... the books have all been in mint condition, and nothing over $15.

Marshall-Stacks said...

is Slow Days the book with the homage to carnitas?
the other absolute book on Los Angeles is called CITY OF QUARTZ.

Kim said...

Yikes, I can't remember if the carnitas are here are not. I tend to read Eve's books as if they are all one so they sometimes flow together. "City of Quartz" has been on my list for too long. Thanks for the nudge.

Fast Film said...

Eve gave a reading at one the few solo exhibitions of my photography, because her work was so apropos (rock music.) I so wish her work were in print so I could give it to people. Here's a passage I remember (close to) verbatim fro, "Rosewood Casket," a veiled elegy to the late Gram Parsons: "I last saw him at the Troubadour Bar. He looked terrible. Anywhere else in the world he would just be a bit overweight. But we weren't anywhere else in the world."

Kim said...

There must be a way we can get her books back into print. I love Joan Didion, but she does a reader no good on a shelf without Eve to offer the counterbalance from that time.

Nicole Lacoste said...

I read your blog ages ago, and have finally gotten a copy of Slow days, Fast Company, which I'm about half way through already. And I love it, she's clever, funny, profound, sweet and terrifing all at the same time. That's for your post which lead to my discovering her.

Kim said...

Dear Nicole, You can't know how flattered I am that this post led you to Eve ... and that there's now another Eve fan out there in the world!!

Jane said...

I am a total Babitz fan. She wrote "Slow Days, Fast Company" shortly after I arrived in LA to seek my fortune (ha ha). I've read everything she's written and wish there were more. She put LA in the right perspective for this East Coast transplant. I love LA...and Eve showed me how to do that!

Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...

Hi Jane, How I wish I would have lived in LA at the time when Eve was writing about the city. I also wish I could gather for a drink with all of her fans who have commented on this post---what a terrific night that would be!!

ish said...

I just reread "Sex and Rage" after pulling it out of the box it had sat in for twenty years. Happily surprised to find it was as good as I remembered.

Kim said...

Eve for me is like Joan Didion. I can come back to her again and again. The familiarity is comforting, but I also always find something new that reminds me why she is such a timeless writer.

Maggie said...

I only popped my blogging cherry last night, and my musings about LA were my first real post (not counting the introductory one). Someone suggested I find a blog mentioning Eve Babitz and yours was the first I found. Perfect! Thank you. Time to dust off the library card...

Kim said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, Maggie - can't wait to read your posts!!

Marshall Stacks said...

oh Maggie I am sorry to think you won't find any Eve Babitz books on an Australian library shelf. I got mine from Larry Edmonds on Hollywood Blvd. ebay is worth a try, good luck.
A great 1970s LA film to look for is Alex In Wonderland with Donald Sutherland using LSD to sort out his confusion. Those were the days!

Kim said...

Marshall, thanks for the movie tip. I also recommend The Long Goodbye with Elliott Gould - another great look at LA in the '70s. As for the Eve books, I got mine from abebooks.com. Good luck, Maggie!

Suzanne said...

Just stumbled upon your blog; now looking even more forward to going to this tonight: http://hammer.ucla.edu/calendar/detail/type/program/id/941

Thought you Eve fans might like to know about it ;)

Kim said...

Hi Suzanne,
Wish I'd seen your comment earlier - I was at the Hammer last night, too. What a pleasure to finally see Eve in person!
Best, Kim

Anonymous said...

See it here..
http://hammer.ucla.edu/watchlisten/watchlisten/show_id/691871/show_type/video?browse=none&category=0&search=

Another Babitz fan...

Dayla Sims said...

Great article about Eve Babitz in Vanity Fair. I loved her description of Marilyn Monroe. Apparently Eve gets L. A. and MM.

Kim said...

Wasn't that a fantastic article, Dayla? So little has been written about Eve (other than what she wrote in her own books), and I feel so greedy every time a morsel appears. I actually saw her speak 2 years ago, and it just made me want more more more. And yes, she does get MM and LA!

Sir Marshall Stacks said...

Greetings dear Eve readers, when I opened my Vanity Fair and inhaled Lili Anolik's piece on EB I thought of this blog immediately. The Eve-era LA was such a seductive milieu and she captured it. I will look for her novel when it's out too.
A massive talent would be needed to describe LA 2014 with any appeal.
If the Eve essay had been in a normal-cover issue of VF and with a cover-blurb, their newsstand sales would have increased substantially. By now they will know they have tapped into something. Bravo to Eve and to Lili on the first of your many features.

Kim said...

I so agree with you, Sir Marshall Stacks! Eve deserved space on the cover. And I love your comment about trying to describe LA in 2014 ... I would love to see Eve go for it!

Ann ODyne said...

Moving house and boxing my books today, it all ground to a halt when I picked up my Sex And Rage*. 38 pages later I had to search teh interwebz for info behind her brilliantly self-referenced chapter on the chess photo with that painter. She did it to spite the married boyfriend who failed to invite her to the exhibition he curated. brilliant that it is now 'known' more for her than for the artist or TMB.
I hope you enjoy this link to 2011 LA review of Books article whose author doesn't get it.
My advice for adulterers is: if you are too scared to ever have your spouse and your lover at the same event, then don't even start.
* and she signed it.
best regards to you Kim and all the Eve fan/commenters above.

Kim said...

Dear Ann,
I had the pleasure of seeing Eve speak last year - she is such a unique, unusual woman ... which is what I love about her! I agree with you about the author not getting her; so few people do. But when you find someone who does, you know you've made a true connection.
Best,
Kim