Welcome back to Par Femme Book Club: a safe space for well-read women to reveal the titillating, back-arching, lascivious literature that's been ruling their worlds. We're resurrecting the series with Gemma Janes, the brilliant mind behind sendb00ks. This is Gemma:
As with so many things in my life, sendb00ks
happened completely by accident. I had made no plans to return home to London, but I had a University place, and I hadn’t really found roots in Paris. I had bookshelves full of English books (which made my arms ache just thinking of carrying them home), so one night when I couldn’t sleep, in that bleary-eyed mood, I uploaded them all to Instagram with dozy captions. People seemed to be taken to the books. I posted every one the next day, delighted by the French postal service, which has a special pas cher
price for livres et brochures
. I received a lot of donations, too, which allowed me to source some more.
After the initial thrill, the feeling didn’t subside. I wanted to keep sending books and receiving sweet notes from young girls, mainly in places I hadn’t heard of, feeling a strange solace in the writing of these mostly dead authors—far better than relating, comparing, and looking for inspiration in the postcard Instagram lives where we spend all our time. I continued.
The following books are my absolute go-to recommendations. Each opened my mind more than the time I spent in school. Also, to receive a book in September, sign up for sendb00ks
by sending £14 (Europe) or £16 (international) to firstname.lastname@example.org with your details (name, Instagram, address) and "The Readers" as a reference.1. Bluets (2009) by Maggie Nelson
“Much like Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse
, Bluets has passed between lovers in the ecstasy of new love and been pressed into the hands of the heartbroken”—a text I received from a man while going through a breakup. Ideal. This little book—or anthology of poems—about the colour blue feels like being cocooned in a deep blue blanket of loss and love. Every time I dip into the book (at least once a week), I feel like I’m enveloped in a conversation with somebody in the height of our closeness. Maggie Nelson has managed to make sense of emotions I never knew existed. She is the master of seeing the sexuality and beauty in painful or mundane moments. I’ve devoured every book and YouTube interview. “I want you to know, if you ever read this, there was a time when I would rather have had you by my side than any one of these words; I would rather have had you by my side than all the blue in the world.” “But now you are talking as if love were a consolation. Simone Weil warned otherwise. 'Love is not consolation,' she wrote. 'It is light.' All right then, let me try to rephrase. When I was alive, I aimed to be a student not of longing but of light.”
2. The Journals of Anaïs Nin
I adore Anaïs Nin. She kept the most detailed and honest diaries throughout her life, and then, despite receiving much disgust after making her problems and emotions public, published them all while she was still alive. Later, in 1972, she exclaimed: “How could I have felt so weak and so passive at twenty and feel so strong now? It is so wonderful.”
She also wrote an inspiring collection of essays called In Favor of the Sensitive Man
, which was given to me by my friend Henri when I was 17. I think she’s a great author for men to read, too. Her writing was what I went to when I was unsure of myself or needed encouragement. “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
3. Salome (1981) by Oscar Wilde
Not quite a book, but this play, which seems to find me at strange times in my life (left on a wall, given to me for free at a bookshop), always manages to make me feel charged with a kind of sexual power. Maybe it’s all the opulence, the jewels, and the fabrics, or that Salome was obsessed with preserving her virginity (she is the incarnation of seductive lust and perverted desire, leading to her obsession with beheading John the Baptist). It’s the sort of writing that feels like lighting candles and having a lengthy bath while waiting for somebody. “Salome, Salome, dance for me. I pray thee dance for me. I am sad to-night. Yes, I am passing sad to-night. When I came hither I slipped in blood, which is an ill omen; also I heard in the air a beating of wings, a beating of giant wings. I cannot tell what that may mean. I am sad to-night. Therefore dance for me. Dance for me, Salome.”
4. Fear of Flying (1973) by Erica Jong
I gave this powerful, painful, hilarious book to everybody after reading it, including a boyfriend who devoured it (not a reader) and told me afterwards that he felt he related more to women than men. The copy I was given has been passed between maybe five people since, and I don’t know where it is now. A must-read, especially if you’re not very good at independence! Erica Jong will feel like your best friend afterwards, and you’ll be able to dip into her instead of calling up an ex and picking the heartbreak scab. “The ultimate sexist put-down: the prick which lies down on the job. The ultimate weapon in the war between the sexes: the limp prick. The banner of the enemy's encampment: the prick at half-mast. The symbol of the apocalypse: the atomic warhead prick which self-destructs. That was the basic inequity which could never be righted: not that the male had a wonderful added attraction called a penis, but that the female had a wonderful all-weather cunt. Neither storm nor sleet nor dark of night could faze it. It was always there, always ready. Quite terrifying, when you think about it. No wonder men hated women. No wonder they invented the myth of female inadequacy.” “Women are their own worst enemies. And guilt is the main weapon of self-torture… Show me a woman who doesn't feel guilty and I'll show you a man.”5. Bad Behaviour (1988) by Mary Gaitskill
Published in 1988, Bad Behaviour follows women—intellectual prostitutes, middle-class drug addicts, sexually frustrated secretaries—in New York as they practice bad behaviour in ways we all can relate to. Frequently frightening, often hilarious, Gaitskill manages to turn me on and horrify me while perfectly crafting the undercurrents of relationships in these short stories through the smallest, sharpest details, like the look of a moisturised leg walking towards her on the subway. Some writers seem to have another sense—a perception for the hilarity at the deep dark bottom of sadness.
—Gemma JanesFollow Gemma and sendb00ks on Instagram.
Have your own recommendations? Share them in the comments.
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