(Please welcome a new Litkicks writer, Willa A. Cmiel, who recently graduated from New York University, lives in Brooklyn, and runs a pop culture/literary blog called Look Out Now -- Levi)
Everyone's got an amusing, self-deprecating tale of failure. After all, quirks and idiosyncrasies solidify our status as mortals and determine us sure-fire constituents of the human condition. If not prone to journalistic tendencies, these inescapable tales of woe and wonderment might go undistinguished, as they are par for the course. In order to grow, we must make mistakes and then learn to fix them. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. So, when exactly do your personal oddities translate to a published memoir? When is such a quest for personal development relevant to the rest of the world, or at least the rest of the book-reading population? In the case of Mara Altman and her new memoir Thanks for Coming: One Young Woman's Quest for an Orgasm, the answer seems to be "When you're already a journalist". Too often it is not a question of relevancy, but one of means.
Mara Altman is twenty-six and has never had an orgasm. She's had boyfriends and sex, and her parents were hippies. But she can't figure out why she's never experienced that momentous "O". Altman, who attended Columbia University's Journalism School and wrote for the Village Voice under the wing of former editor David Blum, is media-savvy; journalism is what she knows. It is only natural, therefore, that Altman, in researching her memoir, spoke to every living expert on the female orgasm, as well as some not-so-experts. Altman, though, is too thorough and too journalistic for her own good. Rather than just getting on with it -- because it's not that hard, objectively, to have an orgasm -- she seeks out tirelessly a new expert, therapist, or researcher with every chapter. Her determination is impressive and her prose, if overly precious, is cohesive and clever. But there is something constantly hanging me up. To be frank, it's just not that hard, objectively, to have an orgasm.
During her search, Altman gets her toes sucked at a foot fetish party, visits an S&M basement, an orgasm ranch, air-humps God in Israel, forgets completely about human-to-human sex, and makes routine visits to the vegan-muffin-man at the Union Square Greenmarket for yogi-like advice. Her book is overflowing with conflicting advice from such a plethora of sources, including Zola, a "pussy professional," and Eric, Altman's hotter-than-Hercules "sacred whore" who is obligingly the un-monogamous boyfriend of the "Mother of Masturbation" (and impetus of the sexiest and most amusing passages in the book). The state of free-world female sexuality might be a stirring talking point, but why then trivialize it with such an overabundance of facts? (Not to mention an even more overabundant collection of cutesy nicknames for female genitalia). Since Altman under this format could not possibly hope to probe at a greater truth, what exactly is she doing? Is Thanks for Coming supposed to be funny? Cute? Helpful?
In reality, Altman exploits herself. She takes comfort in her naivete and her awkward ignorance, playing up the role of the career-driven, hardworking-thus-sexually-repressed female. After all, a man who couldn't orgasm wouldn't get an advance, he'd get a prescription and a hard dose of alienation. And for most of the book, Altman gets caught up in her own gimmick. This natural journalist is so exhaustive that it is difficult to remember what she is trying to achieve. Is it an orgasm or a book deal? If the answer is "book deal" -- an event which, fittingly, is often understood as the climax of a writerly vocation -- then Altman's memoir is a fallacy and her sexual "issue" a gimmick. Altman's orgasmlessness is her own funny, self-deprecating tale of failure, of which each of us have in one mortal form or another. It's like a fill-in-the-blanks and Thanks for Coming is Altman's version of this life-sized Mad Libs.
On Amazon.com, for example, Thanks for Coming is coupled with a book called Take Your Shirt Off and Cry: A Memoir of Near-Fame Experiences. In this case, a young woman discusses her failure at making it in Hollywood, although she certainly has a few close calls. She is intelligent, well-trained from her "glory days at NYU's theater program", and oh-so-hardworking. By all accounts she should be successful by now. But dammit she's still failing! And it's funny! Sound familiar? Like self-help books and fad diets, the gimmick memoir is a child born of market-driven publishers, many now floundering, more than ready to fit any proposal they can into an already distinguished, even mildly successful, cookie-cutter mold.
This memoir, of course, is not truly about the search for an orgasm. If it were, the book would have been one third shorter. When she finally comes, Altman can't figure out why she isn't satisfied. As a result, she begins a search for ... herself. "For Mara," reads the back cover, "orgasm was connected to a part of her that no vibrator could reach." Well, Ms. Altman, join the club. At this point, the purposelessness of such tireless research reveals itself. It's no wonder Altman is desensitized: these sex experts have jobs that rely on their ability to objectively examine the female orgasm without those emotions from which the rest of the world can't separate or don't care to. It surely isn't news that most women and many men equate, confound, or enmesh sex and emotions. Whether Altman's shortcomings can be pinned upon upbringing, societal repression, or the pressures faced by ambitious females in New York, an isolating city where vaginas already have the majority, it's difficult to say. Altman tries to. The question is, do you care? After all, it's not that hard, objectively, to have an orgasm.
Love As Always, Kurt Vonnegut As I Knew Him by Loree Rackstraw
The then-clean-shaven novelist was struggling at this moment to break through a memory block and write a book about the firebombing of Dresden during World War II. Rackstraw became his lover and close friend, and her new memoir chronicles how Vonnegut's life changed when he finished his Dresden book, originally titled Goodbye Blue Monday but eventually called Slaughterhouse-Five, and rocketed to wealth and fame.
Rackstraw remained his sympathetic sometime-lover after his divorce and remarraige, and the stories she tells are refreshingly modest -- she doesn't claim to have been Kurt's greatest muse, though she may have been an important part of his support system.
Fittingly, this is a kind book. Rackstraw remained a writing teacher at Iowa and an editor of the North American Review, and her book offers appealing cameos of Andre Dubus, Richard Yates, Geraldo Rivera (who, I'm surprised to learn, briefly married Kurt Vonnegut's daughter), John Irving and even, in a late chapter, Jon Fishman of Phish, a dedicated Vonnegut fan. My only complaint, and a surprising one regarding a memoirist who spent her life writing and editing fiction, is with the prose itself. Many sentences are stiff and clumsy. One characteristic paragraph confusingly begins:
That 'Slapstick' was not a rave, critical success was a disappointment -- and also one that Kurt himself severely awarded only a grade of "D".
This from a lifelong writing teacher? Such stylistic blunders are strange to see, but it doesn't mar the value of this book for anyone wishing to learn more about the gentle soul of Kurt Vonnegut. He earns here a rare honor among celebrity writers: a romantic literary tell-all that only upholds his adoring popular image.
The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl
Like The Dante Club, still my favorite Matthew Pearl book, The Last Dickens is filled with appealing scenes of soon-to-be-legendary early American publishing personalities hard at work. James R. Osgood of Fiends and Osgood is the hero, and the unscrupulous Harper Brothers are the heavies (today, Ticknor and Fields has been lost inside the wayward Houghton-Mifflin firm, while HarperCollins is owned by Rupert Murdoch). We also meet Frederick Leypoldt, editor of a new journal called Trade Circular and Publishers' Bulletin, which would eventually become our familiar Publisher's Weekly, along with an array of literary waterfront pirates known as bookaneers.
The historical material is delightful, and I hope Matthew Pearl will keep exploring the early publising scene in future works. But his novelistic formula -- wrap a great author in a fictional mystery and aim for the bestseller list -- may be wearing thin, and I found The Last Dickens less satisfying than his books on Dante or Poe. This may be due to my lack of particular interest in Charles Dickens -- sure, I loved Great Expectations, but Dickens was never in my personal pantheon -- and is surely due to the fact that I've never read The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I'll always be interested in any book Matthew Pearl writes, but I hope his next novel will move beyond what has now become too limiting a formula for an author of such wide talent and knowledge.
Curses and Sermons by Nic Saunders
Here, the male and female characters are simply called "The Cowboy" and "The Stranger" respectively, but the basic setup remains. Not every experimental play needs to be enhanced with cinematic visuals, but they work well here. The characters dig deep holes in the ground, perhaps as symbolic preludes to making love, and travel through psychedelic filters until they finally, as Billy the Kid and Jean Harlow eventually must, make love. The film ends happily, a satisfying exploration of an enigmatic work.
1. Author J. G. Ballard has died.
2. Pankaj Mishra is angry about the "Tandoori-Chickenisation of the literary palate in the west", or the "vastly increased preference for 'ethnic' literature among the primary consumers of literary fiction: the book-buying public of western Europe and North America." As an enthusiast for sites like Words Without Borders and festivals like PEN World Voices, I suppose I should feel chastened, but I don't. I seek out international literature because it's my own literature. Who is Pankaj Mishra to tell me that I might not have more in common with, say, Alain Mabanckou or Indra Sinha or Wen Zhu than I do with the guy who lives next door? He may as well tell me to stop eating Indian food (because I don't really understand it). A clever article, but in the end it's a familiar complaint and a cheap shot.
3, Don Gillmor investigates the history of Harlequin romances.
4. Jill Lepore on Edgar Allan Poe, whose work had "this virtuosic, showy, lilting, and slightly wilting quality, like a peony just past bloom".
5. A Japanese author invokes Poe with a pseudonym: Edogawa Rampo.
6. About Last Night locates a true record of a popular Louis Armstrong myth.
6. Updike on Africa.
7. William Patrick Wend on N. Katherine Hayles' Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary.
8. Emma Bovary, c'est online.
9. Alleged Internet-hater Andrew Keen is just a big softie. His latest article suggests that "blogs are dead" but then quickly devolves into a rundown of some exciting new WordPress real-time/social features. Even in this new mini-era of Twitter, the only thing blogs are dying of is popularity.
10. TechCrunch says web innovators should band together and stop the hype cycle. I agree, but we have a better chance of solving global warming.
11. LitKicks poet Mickey Z. will be participating in "Earth: A Wake up Call for Obama Nation" in Washington DC on April 25.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, global activist and indie publisher extraordinaire, turns 90 years old today. Here's his Litkicks biography page, and here's the poem we've been running on this site for many years:
The pennycandystore beyond the El is where I first fell in love with unreality Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom of that september afternoon A cat upon the counter moved among the licorice sticks and tootsie rolls and Oh Boy Gum Outside the leaves were falling as they died A wind had blown away the sun A girl ran in Her hair was rainy Her breasts were breathless in the little room Outside the leaves were falling and they cried Too soon! too soon!
The great folksinger Pete Seeger will also turn 90 on May 3, and New York City will celebrate him in big style on this date at Madison Square Garden featuring performers like Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Arlo Guthrie, Dave Matthews and John Cougar Mellencamp. That's going to be some hootenanny birthday party. Pete Seeger and Lawrence Ferlinghetti are two American sages, feisty, stubborn and deeply politically engaged. What blacklisted Communist Pete Seeger and embattled Howl publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti had in common is that they both loved to fight for their causes. They both wore out their competition.
I've been peeved, and I've said so, about the high percentage of John Updike memorial articles citing his Rabbit novels (1960's Rabbit Run, 1971's Rabbit Redux, 1981's Rabbit is Rich, 1990's Rabbit at Rest) as his masterpiece.
I would never deny other readers the right to crow about their favorites, and I do think these books have some value. But I object to the idea that they are his masterpiece because I'm worried people who've never read Updike will pick up Rabbit Run and give up on him forever after reading twenty pages of that chewy, stale narrative. In fact, I believe Updike adopted a deliberately dull voice when writing as Rabbit Angstrom. Updike's gracefully high-minded intellect was his single greatest gift as a writer, but he was deliberately subverting his intellect in these books, and that's too great a loss.
Updike was famous for his "impersonation" novels -- the Bech books, Brazil, Terrorist -- and I insist (though I seem to be alone in this opinion) that the Rabbit books were among his impersonation novels. Rabbit Angstrom is a small town basketball former-hotshot, people-smart but not book-smart, with no aspirations that can't be satisfied in a kitchen or a bedroom. His political views and opinions are earthy, humorous in the same way that Archie Bunker's were, but ultimately there is always the sense that Updike is studying this Suburban Man, this Joe the Plumber, as a social prototype.
The greatest problem, though, is the absence of Updike's soaring voice. Updike's prose will follow his character's thought patterns in any book, of course, and Rabbit's thoughts are stubby, ungrammatical, tepid. Updike's voice flies in other books -- when Piet Hanema watches a woman walk by a church, when Richard Maple stares up at a falling Boston skyscraper. But Rabbit is a ground-sniffer. So is John Updike in these four books, and the experiment produces interesting results, but no masterpiece.
If you want to discover John Updike and haven't yet, I suggest you read Couples first, and then Too Far To Go, followed by any of those bricks of collected criticism, Odd Jobs or Hugging the Shore or any other, it doesn't matter which, that you can pick up in a used bookstore cheap. For some early Updike, read Of The Farm and a few short stories; for later Updike, try Gertrude and Claudius, and at some point take a break with Nicholson Baker's U and I. At this point, you're ready for Rabbit. But the novels should never be the entry point for Updike's career.
With that said: I got a lot of feedback the last time I wrote something like this, and more than one Updike fan said I shouldn't judge the Rabbit foursome on the basis of the first two, but must read the third volume, Rabbit is Rich. I've now read it and completely agree that this is the best one so far, much better than Rabbit Run or the confused Rabbit Redux. I now understand some of the enthusiasm many feel for the Rabbit series, and I am also starting to see how enjoyable it is to follow a single set of characters -- a family, an ever-shifting gang of friends, a very funny son who keeps crashing cars into things -- over the course of several decades. This is probably the best thing about the Rabbit books. (However, Too Far To Go does the same thing, though not to the same length.)
As for Rabbit is Rich itself, the voice here has mellowed as the character has matured. Middle-age suits Rabbit well, as it suited Updike well. I loved the scenes with the gold and the silver, and I was amused near the end to discover that the book's final sequence is a return to Updike's most classic literary motif -- the "swapping party" -- the same motif that animated Couples, Marry Me and so many other Updike books, that Rick Moody parodied brilliantly in The Ice Storm, that eventually led to a mediocre TV series called "Swingtown". That screwy Rabbit, after all these years ...
I guess I'll even read Rabbit At Rest ... what the hell, I've come this far. These are good books. They're just not John Updike's masterpiece.
(A literary sensation and National Book Award nominee at age 21, Eleanor Lerman has paid her dues, been there and back, and has now published a new book of short stories. Here's her story. -- Levi).
Person wanted to sweep up in harpsichord factory. That was the ad in the Village Voice that I answered in 1970 when I was eighteen years old and looking for a job so I could support myself in the city, where I was headed to join the revolution. It also happens to be the first line in Civilization,” a story in my new collection of short stories, The Blonde on the Train (Mayapple Press). The story is fiction, but the ad, the job -- and the way they both changed my life -- are still the touchstones I go back to again and again whenever someone asks, "What made you want to be a writer?"
It was actually reading Leonard Cohen that made me think I could write poetry (until I found The Spice Box of Earth on a drugstore rack in Far Rockaway, the lost and windy peninsula at the end of the earth -- excuse me, I mean, the end of Queens, where I lived when I was a teenager -- I was under the impression that poetry was written by people like Robert Browning and Lord Byron, who didn’t exactly resonate with me). But it was the harpsichord kit factory where I worked, the long-lost Greenwich Village of artists and gay bars and roller-skating queens, along with my neighbor, a film producer, who introduced me to a community of writers, and my boss, Michael Zuckermann, who gave me the job because he said I had soulful eyes (I hope I still do!), which in the psychedelic days was the only qualification you needed, I guess, to make harpsichord kit parts (I graduated from the sweeping up part pretty quickly) that made me believe it was possible to actually live the life of a writer. Thirty-five years later, I’m still trying, but I think I’m getting closer.
At the time, Zuckermann Harpsichords (now a thriving company owned by other people and based in Connecticut -- look them up if you want a nifty harpsichord kit to build in your spare time) was housed in the first floor of a small, quirky 19th century building on Charles Street. Michael not only gave me a job, he gave me a tiny apartment upstairs. The whole operation employed about five girls, who drilled pin blocks, used a table saw and a lathe, but also worked on eccentric machines that Michael had made himself out of sewing machine parts: we used those to wind wire, cut felt and velvet, and make the jacks that pluck harpsichord strings. Sometimes we ran out of parts and I was supposed to write what we needed on a blackboard. Instead, inspired by Leonard Cohen, I used the blackboard to write poems.
The film producer, who lived in a carriage house on the lane behind the harpsichord workshop, had to walk through our space every day to get his mail, and he began stopping by the blackboard to read my poetry. One day, he said something to me like, You know, that’s pretty good. You ought to try to get your work published. It had never occurred to me that was possible until he suggested it. (So thank you forever, Harrison Starr.)
As for Soft Skull's future, Eric Rosenfield twittered that he can't picture Soft Skull without Nash, but this only proves that Eric is young, since Nash is not the first but the second charismatic leader in Soft Skull's exciting history. But, yeah, Sander Hicks and Richard Nash ... that's two tough acts to follow. I'm curious to see if anyone will turn up with the heart to try.
2. Adam Begley, who will be writing a major biography of the late John Updike, says "My principal aim in writing his biography will be to illuminate for the reader the nature of his character and of his greatest accomplishments". Ahh, cut the sanctimony. If that's all the book does, nobody will want to read it. Updike's artfully self-referential work revolved around the core topic of love, marriage, adultery and sex -- has he ever written a story or novel that was not a love story? -- and we want to know the real life juicy facts behind all this juicy fiction.
3. The fact that Michiko Kakutani hates Jonathan Littell's much-hyped The Kindly Ones means absolutely nothing to me. The fact that Michael Orthofer hates it means much more. E. J. Van Lanen posts a dissenting opinion, as does Steve Mitchelmore. I haven't even seen the book yet, but I sure am curious whether I'll join the fan club or not.
4. Via Mike Palacek's New American Dream, a play about Dorothy Day.
5. A really beautiful text visualization of literary St. Petersburg is featured at the New Yorker's blog. The Mercedes-Benz ad that pops up when you view the page is much less beautiful.
6. More Leningrad visualizations: Superimpositions of war and peace.
7. And even more Russian stuff: Cecil Vortex conducts the Brothers Karamazov deathmarch.
8. Musings on Damon Runyon.
9. Christopher Nolan, author of Under the Eye of the Clock and Dam Burst of Dreams, has died.
10. Greg Sandow of the Wall Street Journal says The Arts Need Better Arguments to gain a better share of public funding.
11. Mental Floss will be listing The 25 Most Influential Books of the Past 25 Years.
12. The Oxonian Review on The Collected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Synder.
I went to see a new production of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. I like to go to the opera, but I can only afford to sit in the cheap seats in the second balcony, up in the very stratosphere of the opera house.
You can still experience the full pageantry of an opera in these seats. The acoustics in the Civic Opera House are so good that the sound quality is excellent as far away as row Z. The problem is it's difficult to see the singers. Most cheap-seaters bring opera glasses or binoculars and spend the whole time looking through these gizmos. I scoff at these people. To me, the singers, seen from the second balcony, look like an opera company in miniature. I imagine that I am watching an opera performed inside one of those glass globes that you see at Christmas, the ones that if you turn them over and shake them, cause a snow storm to fall on the village within. The tiny players, although small to the eye, have magnificent voices that carry all the way to my seat in the highest altitudes of the theatre.
My fantasy intact, I settled in. The orchestra started. The curtain went up on act 1, scene 1. I was transported to Catfish Row, the fictitious black community in Charleston, South Carolina, where the story takes place. Clara, the wife of Jake the fisherman, is singing a lullaby to her baby. The lullaby is the most famous song from the opera - “Summertime” - a song that has been recorded by everyone from Duke Ellington to Janis Joplin.
1. I attended a preview screening of Revolutionary Road, the new Kate Winslet/Leonardo DiCaprio film based on a highly regarded 1961 novel by Richard Yates, along with a few friends who'd all loved the Richard Yates novel. They all hated the movie. Myself, I haven't read the novel yet, so I can tell you how the film stands on its own. (I'm also reading the novel right now, so I may sound off on this topic again once I finish.)
Revolutionary Road is the tragedy of a marriage that starts off shaky and ends worse. Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio play two earnest and artistic New Yorkers who find themselves living a conformist lifestyle in a fashionable Connecticut suburb (with a street called Revolutionary Road) even though they have strong Bohemian yearnings and can't stand their neighbors. The only neighbor they like -- in one of the film's best scenes -- is a literal madman, played by Michael Shannon, in whom they find a kindred alienated spirit.
The fiesty lovers fight constantly, humor and ignore their children, dream of solving their problems by moving to Paris, all the while descending into greater and greater miseries. I can see why my friends who are familiar with Yates's novel consider the movie a simplistic and commercial betrayal of the source material, but even so, the film packs a punch. It's a bleak and unblinking stare at a troubled modern family, and Kate Winslet's performance helps carry the message. Leo DiCaprio, unfortunately, still can't act -- he sure can emote and yell, and he has a craggy face you could carve into Mount Rushmore -- but he can't act. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) is also fond of an artificial and histrionic style of acting (Winslet somehow manages to appear natural even in Mendes's hands), and it's frustrating to realize how much better this film could have worked in subtler hands.
Yet Revolutionary Road is worth catching, if only to see the stars of Titanic gloriously reunited. I was surprised that the preview audience didn't gasp during the scene where Kate Winslet fingers a brochure for the Cunard Cruise Line as she makes plans to sail with her family across the Atlantic Ocean. Once again, Kate and Leo don't make it to the other side.
2. The new Pal Joey ended up getting trashed in the New York Times. I think the show deserves a more sympathetic review, even with its many problems. It's still about a hundred times better than Little Mermaid or Legally Blonde.
3. Maud Newton introduces Iceberg, an exciting new iPhone e-book approach pioneered by ScrollMotion. In other e-book news (and there seems to be a lot of e-book news lately), Project Gutenberg is going mobile.
4. Heartbroke Daily is about one writer's persistent lovesickness.
5. I told you last week that I am going to begin an extensive writing project here on LitKicks in January. I first conceived this as a book idea, but since I am already working with an agent on a different book proposal I am going to begin writing this one right here on LitKicks in occasional blog-post segments, not necessarily chronological, and I will continue until I either tell the entire story or decide to stop.
The story is about me, specifically about my work in the internet industry in the last fifteen years. I have seen a lot -- and survived a lot -- since launching LitKicks in 1994 and leaving my job in the financial software industry to work for Time Warner's first internet startup in 1995. In the years to follow I became a spoken-word poet, helped to launch one of the web's first advertising networks, insulted Bill Gates in person, published a book, built BobDylan.com, drank too many martinis, became a paper millionaire, went completely broke, got a divorce, watched my kids grow up, endured a year's employment in what must have been one of the most dysfunctional technology departments in the history of mankind (at A&E Network/History Channel), fell in love, and found a new footing online in the age of blogs and Web 2.0. I watched the birth of the dot-com industry, the birth of Yahoo, the birth of Amazon, the birth of Java, the birth of XML, the birth of Google, the death of the Pets.com sock puppet, and the incredible hair of Rod Blagojevich (okay, Blagojevich's hair isn't in the book, but everything else is).
I have been burning to tell some of these stories for a long time, and I hope to do so in a way that is both entertaining and intellectually stimulating. I'm not a big Ernest Hemingway fan, but my method in telling this story will be to follow his advice in what must have been one of his best lines: "Write the truest sentence you know."
Truth? That's a tall order, but these stories need to be told. Some former Silicon Alley colleagues of mine may not like some of the things I'll say. Hell, I may not like some of the things I'll say. But in my opinion the only reason to write a memoir (James Frey notwithstanding) is that you want to tell the truth, and that's exactly what I plan to do. I hope you'll check out the first installment, which should appear just after New Years Day.
We'll be closing down (and putting up our annual Action Poetry retrospective) between Christmas and New Years. Yesterday I posted a video from Godspell, and in the same spirit, here's an even better random video I found on YouTube, an extremely intense version of Gethsemane from a Peruvian production of Jesus Christ Superstar. This is my idea of a good Christmas video. Enjoy, and see you in January!
Diane Kurys has directed a film biography of rebellious French writer Francoise Sagan, titled simply Sagan. Perhaps inspired by the success of La Vie En Rose, a recent biopic of Edith Piaf, the new film stars Sylvie Testud (who played Piaf’s friend in La Vie en Rose), and follows the story of Francoise Sagan from the publication of her first book to her final days in Normandy.
Francoise Quoirez –- she took the nom de plume Sagan after the Princesse de Sagan, a character in Marcel Proust's A La Recherche du Temps Perdu –- grew up in a moneyed family, first in Lyon, and then in Paris. An indifferent student, she was nonetheless fascinated by literature. Her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse, was published when she was barely nineteen years old. Bonjour Tristesse caused an immediate scandal in France, but despite the outrage of the bourgeoisie it climbed to the top of the bestseller lists. Sagan became a fixture on the French literary scene, known for her reckless lifestyle: drinking, drugs, fast sports cars, and gambling, and for her advocacy of sexual freedom in contrast to the traditional mores of France.