Thursday, June 22, 2006

some compliments last a lifetime

When I first moved to Brooklyn, I got a job bartending at a local brewery/restaurant. I worked the weekend brunch shifts, so there were many early morning hours with no customers. I would grab a seat at the bar and pass the time reading. One day, Gio, the sexy Dominican waiter, sidled up to me and said, "Girl, you look good when you read." Considering the only thing I do more than read is breathe, it was a heavenly gift that's stayed with me for years. I was reminded of this by a link on Wit of the Staircase to these reflections by women writers on images of women reading in honor of the Orange Prize shortlist.

Jeanette Winterson
Marilyn Monroe by Eve Arnold

This is so sexy, precisely because it's Marilyn reading James Joyce's Ulysses. She doesn't have to pose, we don't even need to see her face, what comes off the photo is absolute concentration, and nothing is sexier than absolute concentration. There she is, the goddess, not needing to please her audience or her man, just living inside the book. The vulnerability is there, but also something we don't often see in the blonde bombshell; a sense of belonging to herself. It's not some playboy combination of brains and boobs that is so perfect about this picture; it is that reading is always a private act, is intimate, is lover's talk, is a place of whispers and sighs, unregulated and usually unobserved. We are the voyeurs, it's true, but what we're spying on is not a moment of body, but a moment of mind. For once, we're not being asked to look at Marilyn, we're being given a chance to look inside her.