Novelist and essayist Eve Babitz grew up in Hollywood. Her work focuses on essay memoirs centered in Los Angeles, particularly in the sixties and early seventies. Since the NYRB classics reissued several of her books and the 2019 biography, Hollywood’s Eve, many people are discovering or rediscovering Eve Babitz’s place in literary history. As Molly Lambert describes in her introduction to I Used to Be Charming, “To Read Eve Babitz is to feel like her passenger, cruising down long Hollywood streets through a painted-backdrop sunset toward eternal waves.”
Babitz was a frequent patron of the Los Angeles Public library as she detailed in Eve’s Hollywood with a chapter entitled, “The Hollywood Branch Library.” This is a short interview with Eve about the Hollywood Branch Library, and the authors she discovered and came to love.
You grew up in Hollywood and attended Hollywood High School. In Eve's Hollywood you have a chapter called The Hollywood Branch Library. Just to clarify, which Hollywood Branch were you referring to?
EB: The library just below Hollywood Blvd,1623 Ivar Ave., was the one I always went to...on my way home from Hollywood High.
I’m going to share some of my favorite quotes from the Hollywood Branch Library chapter-big surprise coming from a librarian. I know you were 29 when you published Eve’s Hollywood, I hope it’s okay if we revisit it.
"My education has been through reading, which has been my backbone and salvation throughout life."
What's your reading style? Would you read multiple books at a time? Stay up all night to finish a book? Re-read books. How was reading your salvation?
EB: Well yes, I read more than one book at a time and I didn’t think of it as a style…more of a lack of focus. And of course, I have greeted the dawn with a lack of discipline to put a good one down. I never thought of style...I read everything, books, magazines, reread books. I think reading would be anyone’s salvation, you get lost in another world, it’s like meeting all these fascinating people.
"Mostly, I find myself coming out of the library with all women writers. I keep hoping the library attendant won't notice, but when 8 out of 8 books you take out are by women, you try not to look too dykey."
How old were you when you felt like that? I know it's a bit of a joke, but I am curious about it. Do you feel differently now about reading women's work?
EB: I was very young and, at that point, a teenager, everything was defined (at least for me) by sex. I’m sure teenage girls feel differently now. I love reading good books...and, a lot of amazing books have always been written by women...I loved Joan Collins, is that her name? I had women friends who were writers like Sarah Kernakhon and Joan Didion...but I am such a fan of men and I have always read men too.
In this chapter you briefly mention the library, but mostly you talk about the books you are reading and the authors you are interested in (I love that). Colette, Proust, Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), Virginia Woolf, M. F. K. Fisher, Fred Hoyle, Max Beerbohm, Henry James, Joyce Carol Oates, and Reyner Banham. In what ways did these particular authors influence your writing style?
EB: I always tried to write what I was feeling and thinking at the time. I hope my ‘style’ was influenced by these writers, any of them! What an amazing writer I would be then! Anyone influenced by that group would be a genius!
"Virginia Woolf tantalizes me. I wish I could write like that. She is in love with London and I am in love with L.A."
Are you still in love with L.A.? Why did you feel shame about being so in love with Los Angeles?
EB: I love L.A. and always have BUT IT’S SO DIFFERENT NOW. I loved living in Rome when I did as well. I liked being in N.Y. when I was there, but not to live. I don’t know if it was shame that I felt or bewilderment that no one really understood, maybe that’s what I was doing…trying to explain L.A. to anyone who would listen!
The chapter ends with...
"And last, I think, but not least is Henry James. When I grow up, that's what I want to be. Henry James is just right, not too simple like Dickens, not too impossible like Proust-just right."
Did your love of reading lead you to become a writer?
EB: It did. And it was a way to try and explain myself!
"Without Colette, where would I be?"
What was it about Colette that you loved?
EB: She opened so many doors in my mind, made me want to be her and write like her. I can’t imagine my life without Colette. Colette was like a concubine which fascinated me, and I thought that was a great aspiration.
"M.K.F Fisher is becoming my favorite writer, even more favorite than Colette. I once wrote her a fan letter and told her that she was just like Proust only better because she at least gave the recipes."
Did you ever have a chance to meet M.K.F? If yes, what was that like?
EB: I met M.K.F. Fisher in this famous restaurant in San Francisco and I ran up to her while she was dining with friends and just had to tell her how fabulous she was. Then I was totally ashamed of wrecking her meal in this restaurant but she was totally gracious and said “That’s okay dear. Bouquets for the living my dear!”
Eve Babitz Book List