Clare Vivier is a successful business owner, a loving mother and wife, and a voracious reader. If you've ever wandered through one of her stores, it's clear that books hold major significance in relation to her beautiful bags: they function as thoughtful decoration and perhaps as pairing suggestions. Similar care for introspective display is evident in her Los Angeles home. Clare may not own physical copies of all the books she reads, but she finds objects that immediately connect her memory to particular literary favorites, and she is constantly on the hunt for new well-written characters. Clare sits down with GAL and gives us the story behind her love of reading and explains the many ways which books (and bags!) have a place in her world.
Photos by: Lauren Pisano
Interview by: Lisa Butterworth
Girls At Library: What are you currently reading?
Clare Vivier: I just finished Curtis Sittenfeld's Eligible. It was kind of like a romantic comedy; I like her writing. And I’m still reading The Girls and Sweetbitter.
GAL: You read more than one book at a time?
CV: Yeah, I can go back and forth. If I feel like I need a break I’ll start another book. I’ve also been getting into listening to audiobooks, when I’m on walks or cleaning or doing something around the house. I just love to be listening to something, so audiobooks have been my friend lately.
GAL: What are you listening to now?
CV: Recently I listened to The First Bad Man by Miranda July. The thing that's really cool about some audiobooks is that it’s the author reading it. So Miranda reads The First Bad Man and it’s really great to hear her voice. I also just listened to Kim Gordon’s memoir, she reads her own book as well, which I really like about autobiographies. You’re like, Oh, I’m with them!
GAL: Do you think listening to a book changes the experience?
CV: I don’t think so, in so far as I feel like it really takes me away, like when you're reading a novel. You’re getting into that world, I do that the exact same way. But I’m not sitting down and turning the pages.
GAL: How important it is to you to actually hold a book?
CV: I mostly read on the Kindle now just because I travel so much. And I love having the ability to read a book review and then buy the book at any time of day or wherever I am. But of course I love a physical book as well, and I love being able to turn the page.
But I don’t remember the last book I read as an actual book. It might have been Jon Krakauer’s Missoula – a really important read, which someone gave to me for Christmas.
GAL: What’s your relationship to reading? Have you always been an avid reader?
CV: Yes. I’ve always been a reader, it’s always been important to me to have that companion that I can turn to. Both my parents were big readers so that's probably why I read as much as I do. It's instilled in me.
GAL: Do you remember reading as a kid?
CV: Yeah, I do. I always remember hearing that reading was very important. That reading the classics and getting into books [was important], just read read read read read. And I was always worried that I wasn’t reading enough and that I wasn’t getting into books. And I remember getting into The Borrowers when I was very little. I read the whole series and that was the first time that I felt like, Oh see, look! I'm really getting into this. I really loved it and was also proud that I read a series of consecutive books. That was the first time that fiction really took me away and got me into another world. I also really liked Judy Blume growing up. She was so funny, and I just loved that [her books] taught you things and made you identify with characters as well. Which I think has continued in my reading tastes. I’m always attracted to books where I identify with something in the book, with the characters. I'm not one to really want to escape—I don't read sci-fi, I don't read mysteries much. I love reading book reviews because I often don't get a chance to read the whole book. [laughs] I'll read the book review first and I'll see if I feel like I'm going to be able to identify with something in it, and then I'll read the book.
GAL: Do you have a favorite writer?
CV: No. But my favorite book over the last two years was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. She is so extraordinarily talented.
GAL: What was it that you liked about it?
CV: I like the way that I was immediately taken into another world. I loved that the character was someone I wouldn't necessarily find sympathetic but somehow I was still interested in. He was a deeply flawed character and an addicted person, but tragedy had struck him so early in life and I think that's what kind of gets you. You follow him along a journey as he tries to protect this work of art. And I think it has the best last page in modern fiction, the way she wraps up this 700-page saga in the most beautiful paragraph summing up the entire book. She brings it back to the love of art and the shared experience that we all have in loving art and that's why art perseveres and why we go to museums—how we're bound together through art. And I think you can see that exact experience with novels; that's why we still read novels that are a hundred years old and they're still pertinent to us today.
GAL: Are you a person that flips to the back page when you're reading?
CV: No, but sometimes I'll skip boring parts. I often will have story-lines that I'll prefer in novels so when it gets to the part I don't really care about, I'll read really fast and kind of flip through it.
GAL: How do you view the power of story? Is there a fictional narrative that has impacted you or your life in any way?
CV: It's really hard to say because I think of literature as art and the way that we're influenced by art that we love and that inspires us, is the same way that I'm influenced by novels that I really love. I think it grows your character and you're awakened to new things, but I don't know if it directly impacts my life. Maybe that's too big of a statement to say that every piece of literature I read is art, but I think I'm ok with that.
GAL: If you were to write a memoir, what you would title it?
CV: I was joking about that earlier. It would be something like, What's Inside My Bag? Or Inside Clare's Bag or Bag Lady.
GAL: Do you have a favorite literary character?
CV: I love Holden Caulfield, from The Catcher in the Rye. He really touched me as a young person reading that book. He seemed rebellious and precocious, but in a good way. And independent, which was all very different from me. And it was set in New York City and I had never been there. I loved the way Salinger describes the park and being in the city and it also sounds very romantic. He was a weirdly romantic character.
GAL: Do you have any rituals around reading? Do you like to sit down with a cup of tea, or do you just read anywhere and everywhere?
CV: Yeah, I read anywhere. It's the best feeling when you're so into a book that you want to get back to it any chance you can. I don't think I've really felt that since The Goldfinch, which I would read until like two in the morning. And then I would want to read it in every parking lot if I had the opportunity.
GAL: Are there books that you love to re-read? Ones you turn to time and time again?
CV: No, I don't really re-read books. If I did I would probably re-read some old classics, like the Salinger books that I don't really remember, but loved—they meant so much to me when I read them. I love Nora Ephron, especially Heartburn; I'd like to read that again. There are so many books I would like to read again, but then there are so many new books so I don't let myself re-read them. [laughs] I really loved Tina Fey's book, Bossypants; I thought that was so funny. I liked Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham. I liked Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple.
GAL: What book would you would recommend right now?
CV: The Goldfinch, that's always the first one. And I loved Americana by Chimamanda Adichie. It was a really well told story and it really brought me into a world of a Nigerian woman and her experience living in the U.S. and then back in Nigeria. I had never read a book by a Nigerian woman so it was really nice to go into that world and see that culture.
GAL: Do you find that books make you emotional?
CV: Oh yeah. I think the first book that made me cry was Of Mice and Men. I was pretty young so I was kind of taken aback by having that much emotion from a novel.
GAL: I remember feeling that way with Bridge to Terabithia—just waterworks. [laughs] It's funny how those memories stay with you so many years later. Have you ever been in a book club?
CV: Yes, a few times. And, more recently, my friends and I just kind of have a very casual book club where we barely call it a book club because we're afraid that if we call it that we won't do it. But I do like to read books alongside friends.
GAL: Do you ever team up with anybody? Like, Ok, I'm reading this. You should too.
CV: Oh yeah, all the time. The Goldfinch was a great example of one I read alongside my dad, because he died a few days after we both finished reading it. That was a very, very special and unusual experience, because we had never done that before. I think we both got it for Christmas and he passed away on the 7th of January. We had both just finished it and talked about it; that was one of the last conversations we had.
GAL: How powerful.
CV: Yeah. I read the last page at his funeral. It's really poignant and relevant to life going on and life passing and people that mean something to you.
GAL: How do you choose a book, by its cover? Or is it always a review that inspires you?
CV: It's a review or if I have the liberty of just spending some time at a bookstore then I'll read the back cover to see if it's a story that I have any interest in. If I do then I'll start to read a few pages. Or recommendations from friends.
GAL: What’s next on your list?
CV: I'm interested in reading the new Jay McInerney, I just read a really good review. [laughs] Bright Lights, Big City was his big novel that put him on the map. This book is the third in a trilogy and it’s called Bright Precious Days. It's set in New York City in 2006, and it's about a couple in their early 50s. It's the story of their life and their struggles as a couple. I love reading about couples because, of course, I've been married for 20 years, so I always want to read about things that are relevant to me and see if I can glean any intelligence from their situations.