Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney is the author of Live Nude Girl, Reading with Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America, now in its second edition, as well as the poetry collections Oneiromance (An Epithalamion), Something Really Wonderful, and That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness, the latter two written collaboratively with Elisa Gabbert. Her essay “Live Nude Girl” was selected for Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers.

From her Q & A with Elizabeth Hildreth at Bookslut:

I've been wanting to read your book for a while now. Frankly, I think I held off because I was kind of afraid. I'm close to the subject, and the title sounds so... sexy? Which, of course, exactly represents people's ideas about nude modeling. Like it's total French cinema, with beautiful women rolling around on mattresses -- their labias all front and center and lit up like a painting. Anyway, when the book came in, I looked at the cover and thought, well it doesn't look overly girly and silly and inappropriately sexy. Anyway, I started reading and it was just... not what I expected at all. So smarty pants. And funny. Not to mention, really, really accurate. I was reading portions of it to David [Abed, my husband, a figurative painter] this weekend when we were on a car ride, and I would wait for his response, which I expected to be, “Well, not really” or “Not always.” But passage after passage, it was [long, long pause] “Yeah.” [Even longer pause] “That's about right.” So where did the idea for the title come from? And who was your audience while you were writing this? Who did you anticipate might read it?

The Live Nude Girl part of the title could certainly come off as a saucy bit of bait-and-switch, but that was intentional. When people would find out that I worked as an art model, some of them -- like you and your husband, who are close to that world -- would not bat an eye, but others would be all, “Like, naked? With no clothes? In front of men….?” and they’d envision scenarios that were a lot more dramatic and salacious than what typically occurs. So when I wrote the essay that I eventually used as the springboard for this project, I was trying to target the broadest possible audience: people who had misconceptions about the profession (or just didn’t know much about it at all) and people who were well-versed in it. The former might come to the book expecting The Red Shoe Diaries or something equally “erotic,” and then would hopefully be entertained anyway, despite the lack of that soft-core-itude, and the latter might come to the book expecting me not to “get it right,” and then be pleasantly impressed by how much I nail it. I added the somewhat tamer subtitle My Life as an Object to pull a similar subversion of reader expectations -- as many people know, art modeling can be violently boring if you lack the right mindset. You’re just standing/sitting/lying there nude for hours on end, and if you can’t enter an almost meditative or thoughtful state, you’d probably find it one of the single dullest jobs in the world. But if you do have that imagination -- that ability to hold your own interest with your own thoughts -- it’s satisfying. So I wanted the subtitle to suggest, as is often observed, that being a model is like being a piece of fruit or furniture at first glance, but upon closer examination, it’s dynamic: the object is thinking, the object could be judging you back. Also, I wanted both title and the subtitle working in tandem to cause readers to consider the objectification of women, and the empowerment and submissiveness that circulate around nudity, especially female nudity.

Like, naked? Yes, like, naked. Except...[read on]
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Live Nude Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue