Celebrity Bookself: The Man Repeller

Well, here’s where I admit to watching MTV Cribs. But, more than that, to looking past the sparkling chandeliers and canopy bed frames for a glimpse of the bookshelves. Sure, most of them displayed shoe collections and diamond encrusted trinkets, but every once in a while I got lucky.  Let me just say, Moby’s bookcase was ogle worthy.

It’s no secret that New York City is celebrity obsessed, and I’m certainly no exception. But, more than their fashion faux pas and dating disasters, I’m interested in what they’re reading. Pico Iyer said it best when he described each book on his shelf as, “a piece of a stained-glass whole without which [he] couldn’t make sense to [himself]…” The books we read reflect who we are, what we think of ourselves and the world we inhabit. So, what better way to scrutinize fabulous strangers than eying their bookshelves.

The first celebrity bookshelf I’ve chosen to eye (I’m fully aware of how creepy that sounds) belongs to Leandra Medine, the flamboyant fashion blogtress better known by her sardonic pseudonym, The Man Repeller. Though she’s never been on Cribs (cryin’ shame), and I’ve certainly never gotten an actual look at her bookshelf (a girl can dream), lucky for us, she’s as eager to share her bibliophilic tendencies as her sartorial ones. Below you’ll find a visual retrospective of Medine’s literary likings courtesy of Instagram and my obsessive following of NYC fashion bloggers!

 

Seriously flawed deductive reasoning paired with the triplicates on this shelf tell me this isn’t The Man Repeller’s personal case,  unless she’s hoarding for fear that the digital age will  render paperbacks obsolete. It’s possible, wise even.  Still, It seems more likely that she snapped a photo because this case holds some of her  faves. Which would you guess inspired the snapshot? I’m going with Milan Kundera for two reasons (again with the stellar logic):

1) She talks regularly about “the benefits of sustaining underarm hair;

2) 1:54 of the below clip from Noah Baumbach’s “Kicking and Screaming.”

It’s worth watching the whole thing, but if you’re in a hurry, here’s the quote I’m referencing: “Oh, I’ve been to Prague. Well, I haven’t ‘been to Prague’ been to Prague, but I know that thing, that, ‘Stop shaving your armpits, read The Unbearable Lightness of Being, date a sculptor, now I know how bad American coffee is’ thing.”

I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron is the coolest. I know this because Lena Dunhum told me, and I confirmed it by reading all her books. Actually, I didn’t read Heartburn because I heard if was awful and look, Janet Maslin agrees.

I wish I’d met Nora in the sixth grade. I wish I’d walked up to her with my tray of Salisbury steak and peas to ask, “Is this seat taken?” to which she’d respond with a quip I can’t come up with, a smile, and an offering of cantaloupe and brie from her brown sack lunch, like the sophisticated sixth grader she surely was.

This fantasy friendship isn’t as crazy as it may seem.  It’s actually a natural response to reading her work, since it’s intimate tone and personal content make it feel so much like sitting down to lunch with your oldest, funniest friend.

Anyway, The Man Repeller appears to have read I Feel Bad About My Neck recently, so I took the time to reread it this week.  Listen up! If you’re a woman, if you know a woman, and especially if you’re married to an aging one, please read this book.  I Feel Bad About My Neck portrays the horror and humor of getting older, covering topics from saggy necks to the loss of a best friend, with  self-deprecating wit and a candor that feels like complete self-disclosure.  It’s quick, it’s fun, and it had my mom laughing her head off, which makes it great in my book.  That’s an accidental pun I’m not mad I stumbled upon.

Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris

Sedaris is the ultimate literary humorist and there’s no doubt that MR has learned thing or two from his style of writing.  I might even go as far as dubbing her the Sedaris of the fashion world, though maybe that’s a crass comparison. I’m sure die-hard Sedaris fans, of whom there are many, would think so. Still, there’s a lot of overlap in the adjectives I’d use to describe them both: cynical, wry, eccentric, and prone to hilarious oversharing (that’s not an adjective, I know). He offers “incisive social critiques,” she offers incisive sartorial ones.

Anyway, as evidenced by the above Instagram, MR seems to have added Holidays on Ice to her Christmas reading list, so I did the same. As you might have guessed from the telling title, Holidays on Ice is a holiday-themed collection of personal essays and short stories. What I found was just what I expected, and I mean that in the most complimentary of ways, since I expected “one of the funniest writers alive,” as The Economist called him, and that’s what I got.  In this re-released and updated version of one his first works, Sedaris gives us a  hilarious commentary on America’s holiday traditions.  In the opening story, “SantaLand Diaries,” which you can read in part here, Sedaris chronicles his stint as an elf at Macy’s Herald Square, the largest department store in the world according to the job advertisement he quotes in the story. I believe it. That place is terrifying, like hell on earth caliber.

This is just the thing for you grinchy types or anyone in need of a break from the mushy sentimentality of the holiday season! But don’t be mistaken; this book is good year round, though especially relevant while soft rock stations are still incessantly playing Christmas tunes. I think you have ’til the end of February.

On Booze, F. Scott Fitzgerald

A lot like Fitzgerald, who introduced himself to party guests as “one of the most notorious drinkers of the younger generation,” MR thinks alcoholism “a philosophical movement.” It’s no surprise then to see her toting On Booze, and probably a  flask (no judgement),  in that envy inspiring color blocked bag. On Booze, is a compilation of Fitzgerald’s booziest works (you’re welcome for that astute analysis) including excerpts from letters and notebooks, along with essays he wrote for Esquire. Because this isn’t a book review -  just a snapshot of what the most rhetorically and sartorially articulate young sot is reading – I’ll leave you with my favorite quote and let the venerable Amazon commenters (don’t read as belittling; they make really sophisticated points) do the more difficult work of critiquing a literary legend.

This quote is from “The Crack-Up, ” an essay originally published in three consecutive issue of Esquire about the types of breaking down  and their respective phases . This series offers a unique insight into the mind of Fitzgerald during a low period of his life,  just four years before his death. The tone is bleak, though in this quote we catch glimpses of optimism amidst the despair.

“Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation — the test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible” come true . Life was something you dominated if you were any good. Life yielded easily to intelligence and effort, or to what proportion could be mustered of both.”

 

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, David Sedaris

I’m not especially fond of stories with animals as main characters. Sure, there are exceptions (see: The Lion King), but overall  I prefer human to human interaction over a conversation between a dodo and a rabbit. I’m not a huge reader of folklore, and I’ve never read Mark Twain’s Book of Animals, so I’m not beyond conversation to lover of talking camels and other personified creatures, but, just sayin’, it’s not really my thing. As such, I will let MR tell you what she thinks herself, straight from the source as they say.  In this one and only book review on her site, she discusses her recent reading of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, a Sedaris’ collection that, even after  her review, I have zero desire to read.

Semi-digression: speaking, tangentially, of Mark Twain, WATCH THIS! So funny.

The Proust Questionnaire, William C. Carter and Henry-Jean Servat

I might have lied (It was unintentional, promise) about the “one and only book review” thing.  MR also shares her impressions of The Proust Questionnaire here. I couldn’t get this at the library, so I didn’t get to flip through it first hand, but I’m familiar with the questionnaire and think the concept of the book is a great one.  I used to give it to my students, asking them to answer as themselves and  their favorite literary character. The results were great! I’m hoping to get a hold of this soon.  If you’ve already been so lucky, feel free to share your reviews in the comments section. I can’t wait to see how luminaries in various fields respond to these revealing questions!