Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh and L.A. by Eve Babitz

“Not that I like to blame things on tequila, but…”

Eve Babitz: it’s not what she sees or who she’s with, it’s her wryly witty observations that make Slow Days, Company: The World, The Flesh, and L.A., from New York Review Books, so much fun to read. So who is Eve Babitz? According to Wikipedia, she seems to be mostly famous for who she slept with, but if you dig around a bit, shove the notoriety aside, then you find her work as an artist and as a writer. Matthew Specktor’s introduction tackles the issue of how Babitz’s notoriety buries her books: “to start laying out the names of Babitz’s paramours is to begin building the wall that obscures our view of her work.” Specktor also points out a major point with Babitz’s work: yes she may have slept with this or that famous person, but these very real people are “largely pseudonymous, or brushed aside in a way that feels aptly dishabille.” Babitz’s reputation, unfortunately, seems to subsume her books, and while I approached Slow Days, Fast Company prepped for pretentious name dropping–there’s none of that here, and instead the book is a refreshing, disarming perspective of California life. Whether it’s Bakersfield, Orange County, Forest Lawn, Palm Springs or even something as simple as California rain, Babitz’s canny observations make us see things through her eyes, and that’s quite a vista.

slow days fast company

Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh and L.A. is a series of essays–each gives a snapshot of some aspect of the author’s California 1960s and 70s life. Her writing is a mesmerizing blend of worldliness mixed with innocence, and the result is, ultimately, unique and fascinating. A part of the Hollywood fast track glamour scene, nonetheless, Babitz managed to mix with the in-crowd but always kept an outsider’s critical eye. While it’s clear that Babitz loves California, still she always maintains a healthy skepticism about the lifestyle as, for example, when she mulls over the thought that “in Los Angeles it’s hard to tell if you’re dealing with the real true illusion or the false one.”

One essay finds Babitz visiting a fan in Bakersfield. It’s a unique area–you can think you know California and then you visit Bakersfield and realise that it’s a world apart. It’s an epic journey for Babitz: “It takes two hours for an ordinary person to get from Hollywood to Bakersfield, so I planned on three.”  She mingles with the locals and marvels, with an anthropologist’s interest, at the social mores, but always with curiosity–never condescension. The scene at the Basque restaurant echoed my own experience: “The forty of us from the party went to the White Bear and thirty-nine of us were prepared for what happened next. I was not.”

If I had a favourite essay, it would have to be Emerald Bay, which records a visit Eve Babitz made with Shawn, a gay man, who becomes her constant companion. In this affluent community, Babitz meets a boring woman called Beth Nanville, and while the essay could have dwindled into a diatribe of the affluent set in Orange County (where everyone is “so sadly hideous and Nixony,“) instead, the essay becomes a soliloquy of just what the author missed in the deeper, indecipherable side of Beth Nanville.

Ultimately, there was so much I liked about Eve Babitz, and this was unexpected from the things I’d read about her. I applauded the way she kept her love affairs more or less off the page; I loved the way she acknowledged feeling claustrophobic in San Francisco; I laughed when she describes her stylish friend Pamela and how she keeps  “hoping for something that is evil and brilliant to come out of her boyish mouth, but all she ever says is ‘Why aren’t there any men in this town?’ ” But here is, I think, the best quote from a highly quotable book:

Since I’ve started carrying a book everywhere, even to something like the Academy Awards, I’ve had a much easier time of it, and the bitterness that shortens your life has been headed off at the pass by the wonderful Paperback. Light, fitting easily into most purses, the humble paperback has saved a lot of relationships for me that would have ended in bloodshed.

A big thank you to Jacqui for reading and reviewing Eve’s Hollywood. I was on the fence about Eve Babitz’s work, but after reading Jacqui’s review, I decided to take a chance. Sometimes books written by people who are famous for being famous are pretentious, egotistical and boring. Not so Babitz. She has a remarkable eye and this book has a freshness that belies the society Babitz lived in.  Slow Days, Fast Company; The World, The Flesh and L.A. is highly recommended for regular readers, Emma, Carolina, Marina, Max, and, of course, Jacqui.
Review copy

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11 Comments

Filed under Babitz Eve, Non Fiction

11 responses to “Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, The Flesh and L.A. by Eve Babitz

  1. I’m so pleased you enjoyed this book, Guy. Isn’t she great? I think you’ve captured Babitz’s style perfectly. “Her writing is a mesmerizing blend of worldliness mixed with innocence, and the result is, ultimately, unique and fascinating.” Yes, that nails it. Her style is like a breath of fresh air – effortlessly cool, yet friendly and intimate too. Babitz is so good on the minutiae of the Californian culture, the sense of beauty in the everyday – whether it’s the experience of eating the taquitos from the best roadside stand in town or the sight of a roller skater gliding across the boulveard, she is a joy to read.

    I am so looking forward to this one. It’s an October book over here, so it’ll be a little while before I’ll get a chance to read it. Neverthless, it sounds as if there’s much to look forward to here. The essay on Bakersfield sounds wonderful, as does the one titled Emerald Bay.

    Thanks so much for the mention – I’m delighted you took a chance on this.

    • I wavered on her because she was famous for being famous–as I mentioned. Sometimes books written by authors who fall into that category are hollow to read. Not so Babitz. I loved her style. Glad you get to read this one soon.

  2. Sometime when describing vapid and fake lifestyles, there is a danger of becoming vapid and fake oneself, or else too cynical and judgemental, but by the sounds of it, this one avoids either extreme.

  3. my first reaction to your post was “who is this woman? Never heard of her” quickly followed by the feeling this would indeed be a name dropping exercise from a ghost writer. So glad you showed I was wrong. Loved the idea of her taking g the book to the academy awards – just wondering where she managed to keep that since the stars dresses usually have no room for pockets ….

  4. Yes! I would love this and the one Jacqui reviewed. I just don’t want to be too greedy or I’d order them right away.

  5. Hm, you and Jacqui, I shall have to reassess. I wonder if I should read this or Eve’s Hollywood first, do you think it matters?

    • I haven’t read Eve’s Hollywood (yet) so I can’t say but this was great by itself. BTW, You might be interested in Amelie Nothomb’s The Stranger Next door. I reviewed it a few weeks back. Loved it.

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