New York book club inspired by 'good books and sunny days and enjoying both as nearly in the altogether as the law allows'
Posted by Alison Flood, a writer on guardian.co.uk/books and former news editor of The Bookseller:
I am not a member of a book club – perhaps it is rooted in the days of my education, but I just feel that I'd hate having to read something by a certain time. However, I am loving this week's slew of articles about New York's Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, a book group which loves "good books and sunny days and enjoying both as nearly in the altogether as the law allows".
As it's sunny in New York, they've been stripping off all over the place, most recently "the rooftop sundeck of a nude-friendly, gay-friendly, everything-friendly boutique hotel", where they read books "from hardboiled crime yarns to ancient-astronaut tracts to the indescribably glorious ABRAHAM LINCOLN, PRESIDENTIAL FUCK MACHINE".
"Conversation ensued … Photos were taken. Relaxation was had. Why can't every Saturday be a naked-with-friends-in-the-sun Saturday?" they write on their blog.
I'm not entirely clear why reading and toplessness go together, but I can't help but warm to the evident fun the book group is having in the pairing (check out the pictures on their blog – although possibly not while you're at work). I emailed founder A Andrews to ask what was behind it all; she told me that "four summers ago, my best friend and I were talking about the law in New York that says women are free to go topless anywhere a man can, and about the fact that no women ever did. It clearly wasn't because no woman would ever want to – when it's 90 degrees outside, who wouldn't rather be bare-chested than suffering under a shirt and bra? But most women didn't know they had this right, and those who did were often afraid to take advantage of it. So we decided to create a group to combat that ignorance and fear. We made it a book club because we loved books and loved hanging out with other people who loved books. And it's been going strong ever since."
Well, fair enough and good for them. So far, the response has been "overwhelmingly positive", according to Andrews. "Oh, sure, every once in a while some passer-by will give us a dirty look, but far more often people who see us are enthusiastic and supportive and tell us how inspiring we are. And this is New York – most people go out of their way not to be fazed by the unexpected sight."
And the group isn't, she says, too distracted by the bare breasts around them. "It hasn't been a problem; it's not more difficult to try to read in the park with topless women around you than it is with topless men, who can be just as attractive (or not), just as sexy (or not), and just as distracting (or not)," says Andrews. "We don't get as much reading done when we're at one of our events as we would by ourselves in a silent, locked room, but then we don't mean to – our gatherings are more social, and we spend more time chatting and discussing books than actually nose-down in the pages, reading them."
Men, by the way, also attend events – although not many, and only those already known to members. Predictably enough, the society has received a lot of interest from men interested in joining. At the moment, there is only one Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, but it's encouraging people in other parts of the world to start their own branches.
I wonder if Andrews et al will spark a new trend. I'll be mentioning the concept to my parents, but I'm not sure it'll take off in Suffolk. As for me, I'll be sticking, top firmly on, to my solo pulp fiction appreciation society (current read – well, he's not really pulp, but I'm enjoying a Raymond Chandler binge after loving John Banville's take on Philip Marlowe). But I wish the Outdoor crew joy of the good weather and good books they have ahead of them, Abraham Lincoln, Presidential Fuck Machine not withstanding.