Before you read this introduction scroll down into the interview about half way and stop once you get to what looks like a poem. Read that first and then return here.
Being a great reader, you had numerous titles and covers and passages and feelings pop into your head while you read it, didn't you. Many manifestos are formal and dry, but this one is inviting and breezy and makes you want to befriend the person who sees and uses books this way in her daily life and has built a network around these ideas. I think you'll be happy to read it again when you get to it after starting the interview at the top.
Equally formal and dry can be "About" sections on companies' sites. But not the one on Sendb00ks's, and like the manifesto I want to put the whole thing here as it's well worth the full read:
Sendb00ks is an online platform and registered cultural association.
We discuss our favourite books with artists and share the conversations.
Each month we commission an artist to design a postcard that we slip within the pages of one of their favourite books. We then distribute them worldwide to our subscribers. These are hand wrapped and written in Berlin with recycled brown paper.
We also curate a small selection of books found in charity shops across England and other places from around the world safeguarding the underlinings and notes in margins.
Some of these can be found on our website. Some can be found on selected shelves, in August 2020 we launched 'A Shelf' at Yvon Lambert in Paris.
We want to know what books are on your shelves and bedroom floors, which books changed your lives and which books you go back to every night. We think that the conversations surrounding literature should always be open and accessible to everybody wherever they live and whatever their education.
Sendb00ks is non profit and we work in less inspiring places to keep this cool project going so donations and books are appreciated.
Delivery is worldwide and swift. Sharing is encouraged.
I hope Sendb00ks is new to you. The passionate creator and overseer of it is Gemma Janes and I hope she is new to you, too. Isn't it grand when you discover someone doing something passionate and unique with books today? Once you've read the interview please do all the requisite finding and following on social media so you can be in-touch with Gemma. She'll love to hear from you. -Wes Del Val
WDV: What have you read in your life which gave you the most serious cases of wanderlust?
GJ: Reading is a trip in itself, but I’m not sure a book has ever initiated in me a desire to go to a specific place. It gives me a taste for it sure, but not in the same way a friend recommending a village and the contact of a restaurant hidden on a back street does. The closest I think I’ve ever gotten to wanderlust is in Latin American literature, particularly with Gabriel García Márquez, where the weather played a character in itself throughout his novels. It made me crave the feeling of being under a huge sky at the mercy of the weather's moods. All of his stories are so magical and seem to heighten my senses, particularly in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Apart from that I tend to seek out books about places while I am there, or afterwards. I recently spent a night in Venice for example. It was unplanned, we arrived in the evening and left the next morning. But because of the quarantine, during the night the city was absolutely empty, the boats were silent in the water. It was eerie. We were running through these tiny dark alleyways trying to find this one restaurant for hours. I thought: I know this experience is going to forever change the way I read about Venice.
What are memorable books you read about a place once you were there?
Last year I made a road trip from LA to Panama and along the way I was picking up and reading whatever books I could find. This really changed the experience. My Mexican friend, and great reader and writer, Fernanda Ballesteros suggested I read The Pearl by John Steinbeck when I arrived at the Sea of Cortez in Baja California. To have this short story as a guide, with its background understanding of the marine life and fascinating history of Baja, alongside moral allegories about humans’ corruption of the land made our experience so much richer. Steinbeck overheard the story from some fishermen while he and his ecologist friend Ed Ricketts were exploring this major pearl harvesting port. The ocean beds are now bereft of pearls, their numbers first diminishing after a disease swept through the sea beds during the 1930’s and more recently due to irreversible changes to the chemical balance in the water caused by pollution and overfishing. This book really put our trip into a whole different context and made us incredibly aware of the history and the landscape, and the disastrous effects humans are having on the natural world.
You’ve modeled for a decade, so what do you read to make castings bearable, in other words when life is at its most boring, what nourishes your mind and/or soul?
Well that sounds like a really long time, but I don’t really do it anymore and when I did I often found really inspiring people around me, I was definitely never bored. But I suppose sometimes it can be comforting to lift yourself out of an uncomfortable head space with a book. When I was modeling I read a lot of Russian short stories. In my favourite, “The Meek One,” the characters are psychologically so real. Dostoevsky made these great human flaws seem so comical, like you are a part of a theatre group and nobody is laughing. He came with me on some shoots when I came close to the edge, when I was being dressed up in a fabric that changes color as it gets wet and having people throw mugs of water in my face while asking me to look ecstatic. The stories were so funny, so farcical, but so relatable that it helped me to keep everything in perspective. Reading can definitely switch up the tone. Lydia Davis is also the master of short stories to read while waiting around. A favourite is “The Fish.”
If you could have dinner with one living writer and any three dead, and the point was for all five of you to have a spirited evening eating, drinking, conversing, and enjoying each other’s company, who would be at your table?
I’d invite the women writers I go to all the time. Living: Miranda July, she is so much of everything and would be the life of the party, making the evening into some kind of weird performance art. I watch her in interviews sometimes and can’t stop laughing. I’d like to just absorb that across a dinner table. I’d invite Toni Morrison, what a woman, so much love and joy and depth. I’d invite Clarice Lispector, the force! And maybe Françoise Sagan although I think Toni Morrison might hate her. Perhaps we could play poker and keep them separated. I’d hope the conversations would turn into dancing.
You get to put one book on anyone’s bedside table for them to see tonight. What and who would you choose?
To see or to read? That's the question. I am constantly trying to sneak books into the hands of those I want to influence. I read Audre Lorde’s Your Silence Will Not Protect You recently. I felt it was an extremely valuable experience. Lorde really breathes a kind of power into her reader, to speak, to listen, to deepen empathy and then to be brave and to use your voice to confront injustice. We sent this book to our 100 subscribers as confinement was lifting and people were taking to the streets following the horrific police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Our readers are mainly young women in America. I hoped they would be able to feel stronger after reading the book. As a teenager I was reproached for voicing my opinions and was not encouraged to speak. If I had read this book when I was 18 perhaps I would have been more inclined to defend myself and my ideas.
You only get to read one book for the rest of 2020. What would it be?
Difficult. I have just gone back to school and I am realizing how much I am learning from the books I would never pick up by choice. So maybe something I know very little about. I would like to learn more about permaculture, herbs and the natural world as a source for all we need. My brother has just come back from two years in New Zealand living this. Walking through the woods with him is eye-opening. He knows which nettle when simmered will make a tea to help inflammation, or what herb can defend your tomato plant against insects. So I'd have to go with his recommendation which is A Field Guide to the Native Edible Plants of New Zealand. It's niche but there we go.
Whose autobiography that hasn’t been written would most interest you to read?
There is a Turkish novelist called Elif Shafak. I encountered her by chance one morning at Latitude Festival with my friends a few years ago. We all walked into the tent and were completely spellbound by her stories and the way she talked about her life and the experience of being a young woman growing up in Turkey. We didn't want her to leave the stage. She was recounting the challenges that faced her but telling them in such a moving, compassionate way. She left the biggest impression on us all and I think about her a lot. I'd love to have her autobiography.
Your favorite bookstore wants you to help them create five new unique categories for shelving. What do you have in mind?
I have recently been curating a shelf at my favorite bookstore in Paris, Yvon Lambert. The aim was to have books that represent and speak to every possible reader. There are books on foraging for mushrooms, an old edition of The Odyssey by Homer and then new published work by Anne Carson. They really let me have full freedom, which was fun. There are no categories on that shelf but we wrote a manifesto last year and I suppose some of these can categorize our selections.
Books to read aloud
Books that will disturb your sleep
Books that you will sleep beside
Books about them
Books about you
Love those. As I do the whole manifesto (co-written with Charles Flamand –WDV), which other great readers will as well, so thank you for letting me post the whole thing here, it so neatly and charmingly sums up all that you’re doing with Sendb00ks.
We send books
Books written by the dead
Books to read aloud
Books that will disturb your sleep
Books that you will sleep beside
Books that you will tell your friends about
Books about them
Books about you
Books that you will send to your love
Books you will never forget
Books that will shape your future
Books to be read in the subway
Or in the sand
Or in your bath
Big books that won’t fit on your shelf
Small books to put in the pocket of your jeans
Books wrapped in brown paper
Books with pressed flowers
Books with lipstick kisses
Books with an original piece of art
Books about gender
Books about nature
Books from this planet
And books from others
English books in French
And French books in English
We send books from all over the world
To everywhere in the world
Delivered to your mailbox.
Look at your books right now. Seeing which two titles next to each other makes you instantly smile?
I just looked and the first thing that made me smile and also feel like bursting into tears is Downhill all the Way by Leonard Woolf, a book that deserves way more recognition. It is next to Orlando by Virginia Woolf, which was not intentional. It is as though they are still somehow finding a way to be next to each other. Their story is so amazing to me, I take a lot of inspiration from the Hogarth Press that they created together, their incredible teamwork, creativity and talent. They published T.S Eliot, Freud, Katherine Mansfield. Even though Virginia struggled so immensely with her mental health their love is so palpable in their writing in the way they talk about supporting one another in their life and work. I dont know if you’ve read the suicide note she left Leonard. I’ll put it here in my answer. I also don’t know how I got from two titles that make me smile to a suicide note…
Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will, I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.
I want to mention one other current thing which has been making me smile. I came to a cafe to work this morning in my new district, the 5eme arrondissement. I am very happy in the 5eme, I feel like I've just arrived home, it is full of bookstores. Generally I read my books and then I send them or give them to friends or leave them in different places, but I brought Sula by Toni Morrison with me as I am bringing it everywhere. It is the book we will be sending in November with the artist Ines di Folco. She is going to paint the scene where the two inseparable friends Sula and Nel swing the neighborhood boy Chicken Little around by his hands. Sula loses her grip and the boy falls and drowns. They don’t tell anybody. It is the beginning of guilt for Sula, but for Nel, who shuns the responsibility, it is a feeling of pride and lightness. It’s one of the most powerful scenes I have ever read. From Ines’ painting we will make a sleeve for the book and distribute it to our subscribers. We will write the blurb together, too, about Ines’ experiences. I'm not sure the book makes me smile, but the daily conversations I have been having with Ines do.
The beautiful serendipity of the Woolfs finding themselves next to each other on your shelves all these years later! So I guess you don’t organize your books alphabetically...
You get to guest edit an issue of any existing magazine. Which title and what are your ideas?
I love my friend Haydée’s magazine The Skirt Chronicles. Their new issue, with the theme ‘deserts’ was supposed to launch last week at Yvon Lambert, but couldn’t unfortunately due to the new lockdown. They manage to combine it all so well: recipes, books, fashion. You learn, you are entertained and you want to talk about what you read with your friend that evening. So this is the inspiration, but I think perhaps I would take a magazine read by many young people and try to make it like one of the old Harper’s Bazaars from the 50s currently on show at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs right now (until Jan 3). Dorothy Parker sold her first poem to the magazine. There are these brilliant interviews and portraits with writers like Françoise Sagan written by Tenessea Williams in 1956 and the advertisements are like secrets passed down by mothers. “Greasy hair? Try rubbing your perfume in the ends.” I’d commission photographers and filmmakers I love to make work about the books that have inspired them, and their bookshelves.
Is there a period which was a golden age of books for you, a time you would have most cherished going into a bookstore and seeing books old now, but new then?
Perhaps at the turn of the twentieth century as the suffragette movement was gaining momentum, when women were beginning to write without so much fear of censorship. The short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman challenged the Rest Cure method as a treatment for hysteria. It has been 100 years since its publication, so we were able to redistribute this during lockdown with artwork by Jan Melka. It would have been so exciting seeing scandalous and groundbreaking novels by women being put out for the first time in small bookshops around the city and being a part of the crowds bustling around the shop window for their copies. It's hard to imagine how much bravery it must have taken for these women to take these huge steps in publishing, taking ownership of the female experience and rejecting some of the narratives that men had been writing for for so long. But honestly, going into bookstores acts as a portal into whatever golden age you are looking for, whatever experience you are looking for from whatever era, you can go there inside a good second hand bookshop, I am sure. Speaking of which I’m going to head to Shakespeare and Company in the morning to support them during this difficult time for bookstores.
It takes a village, it always has (but especially now), and I hope people support what YOU’RE doing with books as well. Thanks Gemma!