Tired of reading the same recommended books from the usual sources? Just think of our bi-weekly What We’re Reading column as your non-committal book club with FADER and some of your favorite bands and artists. For this installment, we recruited Jess Weiss, vocalist and songwriter of moody rock quartet Fear of Men. The band's debut album, Loom, is out now on Kanine; read their GEN F profile from The FADER #84 right here.
I wanted to write about what I've been currently reading, Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood, but it left me a little cold and finishing it feels like a duty.The last thing I read that really moved me Deirdre Bair's biography of Simone de Beauvoir. Like Bair's other biographies, it's beautifully written. She creates a real insight into a strong and inspirational character. It reframes her as a major writer and political philosopher in her own right—fundamental to the work of her lifelong companion Sartre, not just obscured by his shadow.
She was a complex individual—a mass of contradictions with elements that were of her time as well as radical and progressive. Many dimensions of her character are explored here, but not in a reverential or sycophantic manner; there's nothing worse than a biographer who thinks their subject is perfect. Through candid interviews Bair is able to illuminate De Beauvoir as a complicated individual, and includes intimate details such as her contraception, style, orgasms, jealousies, drugs, lovers and the context of her major influential works such as The Second Sex ("all male ideologies are directed at justifying the oppression of women...women are so conditioned by society that they consent to this oppression") and The Mandarins.
It was completed over five years of interviews, and authorized which, though often a bad thing for biographies, doesn't seem too damaging here. It's infinitely humanizing to hear about the personal cost of taking such a radical stance on personal and sexual relationships, and the arc of her life is so involving that I cried at the end as though I'd lost a real friend. "Life writing" as a genre is fascinating to me. Understanding someone else's history and mind is so elusive that the best books can feel like a real encounter. I'd love to write biographies myself one day.