in conversation with
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
A. M. Homes, The End of Alice
Mason Currey, Daily Rituals
My mother gave me all of her childhood books: the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, the copy of Daddy’s Little Girl that, legend has it, was marked with the tears my grandmother shed while reading this somewhat-maudlin tale of love and loss.
My mother had saved these books for me because she knew this essential truth: little girls love to read. They especially love to read books that feel like secrets, adult secrets, or perhaps their own secrets being quietly recited back to them. Hence, nine-year-old me stealing a copy of Lolita and finishing the whole thing despite having understood only scattered phrases.
When we, as young women, are given the space to read, the act becomes a happy, private corner we can return to for the rest of our lives. We develop this love of reading by turning to stories that speak to the most special, secret parts of us. And here comes Judy Blume.
As a child I went through many reading phases: Holocaust fiction, Victorian sagas, sci-fi (the result of a fascination with the futuristic architecture of the basement bookshop on St. Marks Place where my dad bought his paperback Dune novels). But Judy Blume was never a phase, because she had books that were just right for each of my selves: the fourth-grader trying to understand why I was so annoying to the people around me (the Fudge books); the seventh-grader begging for breasts (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; Deenie); the teenager trying to understand the fervent, feverish love I felt for my friends (Summer Sisters). And there Judy Blume was, on the back page, smiling wide in a riding jacket with her signature cap of curls.
When I visit Blume in her Upper West Side home, that same face answers the door. Stunned by her familiarity, I follow her into a sunny living room filled with perfectly aged books and a husband who isn’t aging so badly himself. Her view is something to aspire to. Our ensuing conversation is a reminder of so much: the hilarious misperceptions of the innocent, the transformative power of art, and why it’s essential to eat a good breakfast.
I. IN THAT OTHER PLACE
LENA DUNHAM: It’s kind of impossible to overstate how much what you do has made it possible for me and so many women I admire to make their work. It’s informed our perspective, and I wanted to tell you a brief anecdote, which is that I, like a lot of children, had a babysitter who was reading Forever. She was staying with us for the summer and reading it in her room. And I had read a lot of your other books, the ones that my parents deemed age-appropriate, and my parents are pretty liberal but they were just trying to look out for my innocence or whatever. But my babysitter had Forever and I said, “Well, I’ve read Judy Blume books, can I borrow that?” And she said, “No, this one’s not appropriate for you,” which obviously got me really worked up, so I took it from her.
JUDY BLUME: How old were you?
LD: I was eight. But I was a very precocious reader; I read a lot of things I didn’t understand. Like I read Lolita when I was nine.
JB: But it didn’t matter, because it went right over your head. That’s why I tell parents not to worry.
LD: Exactly. I had no clue what anybody was talking about. I don’t think any of the depictions of sex were more to me than just, like, an image of two people’s arms rubbing together; I just had no clue. But I took Forever to the bathroom to read and then I heard my mom coming—we were at our country house—and so I stuck it under the toilet and went running out. I went back later to check for it and it was gone. I was freaked out. My babysitter came up to me and she said, “Did you take my copy of Forever? I saw it in the bathroom, under the toilet.” And I told her that my cat had put it there, which at the time seemed like a really great excuse.
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