I should note right off the top that I've not yet finished Stephanie LaCava's new novel, The Superrationals. In fact I'm only about a fifth of the way in (I do hope there are many more biting, art world gallery-girl scenes to come, they’re my favorite parts), but since I don’t review books for OGR I'm fine admitting as much. But since I do have decades of publishing experience, which means I have a just slightly better than zero sense of what will be successful, here are four reasons beyond the book's text, in no particular order of impact, why I think it will all add up to handsome sales:
Its cover color is a lovely buttery yellow that will make for even lovelier Saturday morning "here's-what-I'm-reading + hashtag this + hashtag that" shots for people who use books as props for their mise-en-seen lifestyle posts so their followers don’t think they just alternated between their phone and computer screens all weekend. That’s a Status buy.
It’s written by a sharp, svelte, and photogenic woman who has lived in Paris and New York City; worked at Vogue; had her work published in the likes of the New York Review of Books, Harper's, and Texte zur Kunst; and has an overall appealing mysteriousness about her. That’s an Envy buy.
- It’s published by Semiotext(e). That puts Stephanie in the same catalog as such heavyweight and influential writers as Kathy Acker, William Burroughs, Michel Foucault, Gary Indiana, Cookie Muelller, Eileen Myles, and Lynn Tillman (and many others). That’s an Educated buy.
It's edited by Chris Kraus. That’s an In-the-know and/or I-hope-I-like-it-as-much-as-I-Love-Dick buy.
I’m incredibly intrigued by this combination of factors and am very eager to see what it does on bookstore shelves, in reviews, and over social media upon its October 13 release and hope everyone involved does well by this book. And now, I present Stephanie LaCava and what she's read.- Wes Del Val
WDV: What are some single issues of magazines which you think were particularly masterful?
SL: I love old issues of NOVA magazine, as well as those from the reboot done with Deborah Bee and Venetia Scott. I also like German magazine Twen. It was Twen that discovered the model Uschi Obermaier. All of her covers for them are great. I love the one from 1969 where she’s topless with velvet pants, her arms and legs crossed, “Miss Kommune.”
There’s a NOVA issue from 1966 where the cover line reads: “You may think I look cute but would you live next to my mummy and daddy?” accompanied by a white background and image of a young Black girl in a red party dress. I was reminded of this with recent posts showing a young boy protesting now, over fifty years later, with a similar sign.
I’ve been reading about the political magazine Ramparts (1962-1975.) Despite being linked to the New Left and considered “radical,” it had pretty good circulation and sophisticated production. It’s trajectory is really interesting, especially in the context of recent events. There’s a great story about the dandy editor in chief Warren Hinckle preserving a scoop, even though the magazine was in production, by taking out an ad in the New York Times. It would be cool to see Hinckle tackle the news cycle now.
Every time I hear a Hinckle story I always want to know another, I’m very fascinated by him.
Can you share a memorable tale of being in close proximity to a writing hero of yours?
I was so thankful to work with Chris Kraus on my novel. Separately, I have a funny story in which one of my writing heroes hung up on me. I was working on something related to Pierre Klossowski and I found a portrait he did of a young Fleur Jaeggy. Through the generosity of a friend of a friend I was able to find out her number in Switzerland. I’m pretty fearless, so I figured I would just give her a call. I grew up in France, so I can understand French fluently, but sometimes when I get nervous I don’t speak so well. She picked up and I asked her about the Klossowski portrait and she confirmed it and then, I think things went downhill from there. (laughs)
Do you have any highly recommended reading/music pairings?
I can’t listen to music while I read or write, but I could think of books and then warm-up or finale songs. I hate to reference lyrics, so I think it has to be more about the mood than the actual words. How about:
The Letters of Nina Harker by Dodie Bellamy and then Soundgarden’s Burden in My Hand or Mudhoney’s Touch Me I’m Sick.
To change things up this fall Air France decides to ditch their magazine and instead offer their customers literature which they think most will enjoy. They ask you to select three slim books which will fit in the seatback pocket and they’ll be on each flight all October. What do you choose?
Roberto Bolano’s Little Lumpen Novelita
I love this book. I love Bolano. This was the last book published in his lifetime. It’s such a good, sick story. The title explains why it’s the perfect size. (laughs)
Heinrich von Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas
This will keep you rapt during the flight. You may have to read parts multiple times. There’s something to learn from memorizing passages, even in translation.
Marie NDiaye’s Self-Portrait in Green
I love NDiaye and this is her shortest book, I think. It’s haunting and mysterious: a memoir that writes the unconscious.
What books have you finished which made you most want to physically see what you just read?
I’m not sure that happens so much for me with fiction. I’m into that in-between place.
I kind of want to take this question very literally and say that when I read art history, I often want to then see the objects in full dimension and scale, or the performances in person. Right now, for me it’s Alyce Mahon’s The Marquis de Sade and The Avant Garde. As I go through her text, I always want to see more than the images presented. Someone could do a whole book about Story of O imagery, for example. Inside, there’s also a tiny clipping from the second “issue” of internationale situationniste (December, 1958) that I love: a woman hula-hooping with a Sade quote below. It made me go look up the entire issue, which I found online.
I’m curious what else in Alyce’s book you now want to see since my interest is always piqued when I see “Avant Garde” in a title?
There’s a previously unpublished drawing of a brothel by the D.A.F. de Sade that I would love to see in person. Also, Man Ray’s Venus restauree in plaster and rope, the object.
What are some titles for which you wish you could write introductions for future printings? Doesn’t matter if they’re currently in or out of print.
Anything Gabrielle Wittkop or the impossible: Marguerite Duras.
As someone who runs a small press called literally Small Press, what are other small presses (historic or contemporary) which you’ve looked to for inspiration when the going gets tough?
New Directions is the ultimate, always. Historically, I like learning about the Olympia Press and Maurice Girodias who was controversial in many ways. There’s also Nancy Cunard’s the Hours Press, which did Samuel Beckett’s Whoroscope.
Did you read The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Age by Richard Seaver? There’s great Olympia and Girodias and Barney Rosset and Grove Press tales in it. I adore reading books about publishing history. Do you have favorites?
I have to read that. Thank you. I love Barney Rosset. I have a copy of L’image from his personal library, the book written by Catherine Robbe-Grillet under her pen name: Jean de Berg. It’s stamped with his name. My favorite books on publishing history would be Those Were The Hours, which Cunard wrote about her experiences with the press. As reference there are two really good compilations: Publishing as Artistic Practice from Sternberg Press and the exhibition catalog: Better Books/ Better Bookz: Art, Anarchy, Apostasy, Counter-culture & the New Avant-garde (bad title.) I’ve also been learning about Jean-Jacques Pauvert through reading some texts he’s published. I just got a copy of Annie Le Brun’s Sade: A Sudden Abyss, in English from City Lights Books.
When’s the last time you were impressed with someone’s bookshelves, whether you saw in-person (doubtful I guess since the quarantine) or on Instagram?
I love people’s bookshelves, even better are their stacks. I’m into the look of stacks of books against a wall or piled high. I really like that visual. What’s most impressive to me is not so much a curation, but evidence of someone’s curiosity. And definitely, works in translation—shelves that aren’t pretentious, just open and interested. I remember seeing this shelf on Instagram in a bookstore that was called “Dark AF…” I thought that was funny and wanted to read everything that was on it.
Fully agree regarding visual appeal of stacked vs shelved, when I come across the former on IG I can’t think of a time when I don’t double tap.
Can you recall books which you stayed up late reading and then arose early the next morning to continue doing?
It’s been so long since I’ve been able to do this. I would love to, though, and I remember that so well from when I was young. To be honest, I’ve been downloading books to my phone and reading them whenever I get any time. Right now it’s Annie Ernaux’s A Frozen Woman and a cinema book called Brutal Intimacy.
How would you spend $200 right now at your favorite bookstore?
Audre Lorde’s Your Silence Will Not Protect You
Fleur Jaeggy’s These Possible Lives
Jean-Patrick Manchette’s No Room at the Morgue
Zahra Ali’s Feminismes Islamiques
Unica Zurn’s Dark Spring
Caroline Blackwood’s Great Granny Webster
Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh’s Omnicide: Mania, Fatality, and the Future-in-Delirium from Sequence Press
What do you pay to read today and make sure to never miss a new production of, whether from a newspaper, magazine, or book publisher?
Again, New Directions. I think Barbara Epler is brilliant.
Funny, I’m currently right in the middle of the recent-ish biography about its founder, James Laughlin. Their run is extraordinary. Care to give us your top ND titles you wholeheartedly recommend?
Laughlin is a friend of mine’s grandfather. I mention this because it seemed so unbelievable to me at first to start a publishing “house.” That’s where the name Small Press came from—kind of a joke. It’s possible though and the increased stateside circulation of works in translation is an incredibly important thing. As for ND: There are too many. The whole catalogue is epic. I have a copy of Jaeggy’s Last Vanities on the floor by me now.
Who are the smartest writers most meaningful to you?
A certain kind of smartness can preclude from tapping into something more psychic or spiritual unless you can learn to temper the neuroses. I think some of the smartest writers have figured out how to get rid of their need to demonstrate “smartness” or prove something, because a reader can feel that. I make that mistake. It’s a young thing to do. What seems wiser, admirable and totally elusive to me is the ability to write like Annie Ernaux and have it be so beautiful and clear. I love that kind of work.
Here’s the hot takeaway: Annie Ernaux, Fleur Jaeggy, New Directions (Jaeggy is on ND!). Pick up any book with those names on it and you’re sure to be satisfied. Thanks Stephanie!