Part book review, part impressionistic scribblings on the joys of reading and the struggles of carving out time in which to do it, #ABookishYear is a weekly dispatch from the front lines of an intellectual journey spanning fifty-two tomes.
Bachelor Dandies, Drinkers of Brandies
By Roxanne Fequiere
Picture it, if you will: Staten Island, 2005. My peers and I are sixteenish, and for some reason, it seems we’ve all made it our personal mission to look as tacky, garish, and/or rumpled as possible. Black North Face jackets are de rigueur among a certain set—the standard puffer, a sleeker quilted version, or a rugged, belted parka that appears to be made from Kevlar—along with dainty, monogram printed designer bags that should be held at the crook of the elbow, though some insist on shoving them all the way up to the shoulder of their densely padded outerwear. Acrylic french tips are the standard manicure, though some pioneering souls have taken to getting what are called “scoops,” which fan out from the nail bed while also curving toward the palm before ending abruptly with a sawed-off flat top. Juicy Couture is a staple. Chunky highlights reign supreme. Spray tanning is a common recreational activity.
Where these girls might sport a Gucci sneaker—monogram print, always—the alternative girl of this time and place sports beat-up Chuck Taylors, sometimes aggressively modified with a Sharpie and paired ratty jeans, a studded belt, t-shirt pledging allegiance to some band or other, and a poorly fitting pea coat when necessary. Her hair spikes and swoops at alternate angles and tends to be dyed with any color that wouldn’t look out of place within a bruise. The gruff athletic types and girls who think they’re tough prefer Jordans and Air Force 1s, the former pairing them with with loose basketball shorts or velour sweatpants, tournament tees, sweatbands, and drawstring bags, while the latter are likely to go with low-slung denim—Baby Phat, perhaps, or Ecko Red—and a form-fitting top, hair usually aggressively slicked into a ponytail that bursts into sad, gel-laden spirals beyond the boundary of the hair tie. With the exception of the alternative girls, who have begun gauging their ears, everyone wears jewelry that looks like it was purchased during an ill-advised shopping spree not long after pulling off the Lufthansa heist.
I move among these tribes with relative ease, though I remain at a remove from all of them. Don’t get me wrong. I’m also making a lot of bold and mostly incorrect fashion choices, but I can’t shake the sense that if I could just get off this island, I might discover a world that feels a bit less claustrophobic, a bit more open to experimentation. So imagine my delight when I discover a book at my local Barnes & Noble titled Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge, a “playful exploration” of the nuances of Bohemian lifestyle by Laren Stover. The tone is tongue in cheek, but the writing is relentlessly informative. I’m encountering names like Kiki de Montparnasse, Jack Kerouac, and Françoise Hardy for the first time. I’ve never traveled west of Colorado, south of Florida, or north of Montreal, and I’m now attempting to mentally orient myself in Marrakech, Vienna, the Left Bank. This is catnip to a teenage girl with big dreams from a small hometown. I rustle up the cash to bring the book home with me.
The copy of Bohemian Manifesto that I reread this past week is the same copy that I bought on Staten Island thirteen years ago. It came with me to college and briefly returned to my childhood bedroom with me after graduation, before being taken to my first apartment in Alphabet City and eventually landing in Harlem. I can remember jumping back and forth between the pages as a teenager, but at some point the book ceased to function as a source of information and became something of a totem. It reminded me of who I was when I bought it, who I hoped to be, and how big the gap had once been. Every time I laid eyes on it, I was reminded, however briefly, that the chasm had narrowed, at least a bit.
For that reason, I imagined that revisiting the book would pull me back into my sixteen-year-old self. Certain passages and illustrations did just that. Jokes that I remember flying over my head then now made contact. And then other memories crept in: a mention of Diane DiPrima’s Memoirs of a Beatnik reminded me of a college paper I wrote about the voracious commodification of the hipster, both of the jazz club and Williamsburg variety. DiPrima’s book was a work cited. Now when I read about Le Procope, I could picture the exterior and interior—my professors had taken my class there for a meal when we studied abroad, lecturing us on its history all throughout. I smirked to realize that, like Stover’s Dandy Bohemian, I also insist on using Marvis toothpaste. Where Thérèse Raquin and The Stranger had once sounded like so many other classic titles I’d never encountered, I now had memories of stumbling through them in their native French.
To be clear: I’m not claiming I’ve reached any kind of Bohemian nirvana or milestone. I mean, I’ve been known to lose sleep over time management methods and bought my 2018 planner in November, for Christ’s sake. What I’m saying is that revisiting Bohemian Manifesto showed me just how many seeds it planted in my brain way back when. Stover’s richly detailed descriptions and generously informative footnotes painted pictures I didn’t yet have the tools to create on my own, setting in motion a countercultural curiosity that fueled my academic pursuits and sparking a wanderlust that still burns bright.
Picture this: New York City, 2018. I am seated in an Upper West Side apartment that brims with lived-in charm. Tonight, on the occasion of Galentine’s Day, it is also brimming with dozens of intimidatingly brilliant women—designers, writers, illustrators. I am smitten, overwhelmed with admiration. Getting dressed for this gathering took some trial and error, but I’ve managed to find a look that’s airy yet raffish, very Marsha Hunt goes to Greece circa 1969. Across the room, a woman’s dress catches my eye, but it’s her face that looks familiar. I concentrate for a moment before letting the thought go. Everyone at this party is probably someone I know from somewhere; it’s that kind of night. A day later, Instagram will identify the woman in the striking dress: Laren Stover. Sixteen-year-old me would hardly believe it. Sixteen-year-old me would freak out silently but bite her tongue. I’d like to believe I’m a little bit bolder now—so I send a direct message letting her know just how much her work means to me.
by Laren Stover
Memoirs of a Beatnik
by Diane Di Prima
by Emile Zola
by Albert Camus
Roxanne Fequiere is a New York–based writer and editor who might just make it after all.