Sunday, July 6, 2008

Literary Fashion part One.

I've been meaning to compose a post on this particular topic for quite some time. Despite this, I haven't exactly given it tons of thought beyond a drifty, dreamy, and somewhat vague outline of the kinds of things I mean to say. I credit this post not being in existence to the seasons: this is the first summer of my funny little blog here (I also passed my 100th post without so much as a parade, how silly of me!) and summer is the perfect time for this topic, of which I have yet to introduce in my haste to make up for the things I have slacked in doing.

I know another blogger out there somewhere has made a similar post, I'm sure there are many in fact, and I also know it is terribly crass and rude of me not to remember or give credit, but I implore everyone to take pity on my scattered mind! The topic at hand is Francesca Lia Block (FLB) books (of course it is, we are by now all painfully aware of the insane attachment I have to all things bookish and literary). Like many of her readers I came to her novels in high school, or perhaps it was in the years before—I can't be sure-- when I first gravitated towards those pretty jewel-like covers (I don't care what anyone says, I do judge books by their covers because covers are pretty and eye-catching), and read them voraciously until there were none left and I was forced to wait until newer publications came out or were reprinted.

I know there is a lot of criticism for her books, as for any really, but they are so dear to me that I can't imagine that someone would object to her stories very much! Her style is certainly clear and it is one that appeals to me as much now as it did then. While I am older and, I like to think, slightly more sophisticated intellectually and I can recognize the problems with so many formerly beloved books (and movies, and music, and the list goes on) revisiting her books still give me the same dreamy feeling that borders on being lost, but in a pleasant way. Her books have influenced me in an undeniable way. It seeps into the kinds of things I like clothing, fashion, decoration, and literature-wise. Of course I am certain I already had a kind of fascination with the kinds of overly strange and cluttered and magical types of places and aesthetics she details, but it was only strengthened by her books.

The first I read was I Was a Teenage Fairy. The story itself I wasn't terribly attracted to. Barely out of childhood, I still needed my heroines to be brunette and bookish for them to be terribly interesting. But I remember being terribly struck by her descriptions of cities as women:

I Was a Teenage Fairy

“If Los Angeles is a woman reclining billboard model with collagen-puffed lips and silicone-inflated breasts, a woman in a magenta convertible with heart-shaped sunglasses and cotton candy hair; if Los Angeles is this woman, then the San Fernando Valley is her teeny-bopper sister. The teeny-bopper sister snaps her stretchy pink bubbles over her tongue and checks her lip gloss in the rearview mirror, causing sis to scream.”
(Block, 3)

“If Los Angeles is a woman reclining billboard model and the San Fernando Valley is her teeny-bopper sister, then New York is their cousin. Her hair is dyed autumn red or aubergine or Egyptian henna, depending on her mood. Her skin is pale as frost and she wear beautiful Jil Saunder suits and Prada pumps on which she walks faster than a speeding taxi (which is caught in rush hour, that is). Her lips are some unlikely share of copper or violet, courtesy of her local MAC drag queen makeup consultant. She is always carrying bags of clothes, boquets of roses, take-out Chinese containers, or bagles. Museum tags fill her purses, along with perfume samples and invitations to art gallery openings.”
(Block, 122)

Then, of course, there are the Weetzie Bat Books. In high school, my best friend and I were engrossed in them, bestowing nicknames based on the characters on each other.

Weetzie Bat

“The reason Weetzie Bat hated high school was because no one understood. They didn't even realize where they were living. They didn't care that Marilyn's prints were practically in their backyard at Graumann's; that you could buy tomahawks and plastic palm tree wallets at Farmer's Market [...] She was a skinny girl with a bleach-blonde flat-top. Under the pink harlequin sunglasses, strawberry lipstick, earrings dangling charms, and sugar frosted eye shadow she was really almost beautiful. Sometimes she wore Levi's with white sueded fringe sewn down the legs and a feathered Indian headdress, sometimes old fifties' taffeta dresses made of kids' sheets printed with pink piglets or Disney characters”
(Block, 4)

I remember being in total awe of that kind of dress, even when it was just in books, the weird girls and the eccentrics. Of course we all are, posting them and their kind as inspiration and all that, these fictional or even real-fictional girl and women characters who fascinate us in their daredevil clothes and arresting looks. I used to try to recreate things from Weetzie, the pink sunglasses especially. But of course I was all about Witch Baby, with her snail-toes, boots and wild hair. I spent ages trying to find a hummingbird necklace like her's, and recently came upon one in a thrift store and bought it just for that old reason. Honestly, with tangles of dark hair and purple eyes, there was no way I wasn't identifying with that one, even if the resemblance was nonexistent:

Witch Baby

“In the room full of musical instruments, watercolor paints, candles, sparkles, beads, books, basketballs, roses, incense, surfboards, china pixie heads, lanky toy lizards and a rubber chicken, Witch Baby was curling her toes, tapping her drumsticks and pulling on the snarl balls in her hair”
(Block, 73).

It is hard for me to chose only a few books to feature here, but the last which I think has injected itself into the gestation of my life aesthetic is Estacia, and also it's companion Primavera. They are two I can read most often and get lost in easily.

Ecstasia and Primavera

“I would find you dancing downtown
in your net and tinsel gown
find you in places
filled up with faces
shadowed with roses, crosses and lace”

“Arcadie's apartment is up some stairs. We enter the small room cluttered with objects. Everywhere lace, dolls, fans, perfume bottles, masks, vases, shoes, ribbons [...] All over the walls there are pictures of a young girl, a man, and a woman. The girl's face is small and her chin comes to a sharp point. In one picture she wears a frilled costume and a small crown of jewels on her head”
(Block, 80).

This might be the longest post ever, but it only feels appropriate. Even if I don't read the books with the same fervor I used to I love them. That cluttered, romantic, nostalgic and pack-rat vein that is in so many of her books is clearly a part of how I live, and the characters with strong aesthetics and senses of self and dress certainly contributed to the driving need I think I must have to carve out some own personal style to burrow into. It makes me want to dress a certain way, to wear things that are quirky and girly, with motorcycle jackets and tulle. I'm not saying they are the best books ever, that they're works of genius the whole world over (I'm also not saying they're not), but that they are lovely and wonderful and made me think about dressing for myself again, about writing, about all of that, and they are a huge part of my development. (What a cheesy ending!)


  1. I was never that much of a fan of her books, but I do remember that description of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley very clearly.

    The books that had a huge influence on me were by Robin McKinley, especially The Blue Sword. I didn't have much self-confidence while I was growing up (although I always pretended that I did), and her books were about girls who went out and did things, regardless of whether they were supposed to or not.

    Your post about the hummingbird necklace reminds of how I used to bookmark pages in which the main character received some beautiful little gift - like Polly's opal heart necklace in Fire and Hemlock. I wanted one of those for ages and I still haven't found one that matches the image I have in my head. You have to show us your necklace!

  2. Thank you for the Francesca Lia Block post! I read all of her books in high school and have got a pretty good collection sitting on my book shelf. Goddess Girl #9 has one of my favorite short stories in it and I think Violet & Claire could possibly be my favorite book be her though it's very hard to choose one. The combination of real and fantasy is wonderful.

  3. These are all so new to me. I was a voracious reader, but most of the female characters I gravitated to were in works of fantasy or sci-fi and their physical appearance was lightly brushed over and their clothes given no details at all.
    However, I think if I were a woman who was a town, I would like to be New York City...

  4. Great Post!
    The Weetzie Bat-books aren't translated to Finnish, and so I never read them, but from what people tell me about, I wish I had.As an adolescent, I loved Fire and Hemlock, too, and this great book called The Changeover, ostensibly about a girl who transforms into a which, but really that's just a metafore for the onset of womanhood. Oh and Salinger, I was like crazy about 9 Stories back then. Deeply in love with the boy from the Eskimo War story...

  5. Of course you know I approve! I lent my best friend Weetzie Bat and she didn't like it. It's not for everyone but for us daydreaming whimsy girls with flutterhearts, FLB is a very important influence.


  6. Wow Kater, I don't know this author but after your insightful post I think I will look her up.

  7. For some reason, I find it so funny that you felt the same way about I Was a Teenaged Fairy as I did when I first read it. I was the same age, thumbing though the entire paperback overnight, and for some reason I simply couldn't gravitate towards it. I remember being disappointed (actually disappointed!) that there were no five foot fairy queens or pages of ink incantations. But that opening paragraph - that high-rise Los Angeles woman - she always stayed right with me, into pubescence and beyond, and ultimately she was what made me pick it back up as a wild thirteen year old.

    We've never looked back, Los Angeles and I.

  8. I think I love "Violet and Claire" best of all.
    However, my own little Mab was something I pined for when I was little.
    Thanks for refreshing my memories of this truly lovely books.

  9. You're so right about books being able to shape and affirm our sense of aesthetics. Girl Goddess #9 was the first book that simultaneously spoke to all the things that I loved and opened my eyes to new worlds--and bonus, amazing outfits. "Dragons in Manhattan" will always be my favorite short story.

  10. Oh wow, I had never heard of these books before, seems like would be a great part ofyoung adulthood. The book covers are just stunning.

  11. you've probably read this already, but maybe you should see if the dissertation is on JSTOR or published elsewhere:

  12. Wow, there's a blast from the past. I would never in a million years have remembered 'Weetzie Bat' if I hadn't stumbled upon this post.

    Wow... I need to track it down and re-read it... again - wow.

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