As soon as I knew who she was, I wanted to be like Dorothy Parker. I was immoderately impressed that, when she was challenged to make up a joke using the word horticulture, she instantly quipped: “you can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think”. I was about 12.
When I hit my early 20s I wanted to be Fran Lebowitz instead. Having watched Public Speaking last night, I think I still do. The poise. The wit. The 1970s New York taxi sprayed “such a subtle shade of pearl grey that straight men think it’s white”. The fabulous self-possession (“Who do you go to when you need a second opinion?” “Why would I need a second opinion?”). The pride in being smart and funny and caring about art.
She is shamelessly, gloriously elitist. We lesser mortals should leave the business of writing to the truly talented. “Too many people are writing books. Period. And the books are terrible. And this is because they have been taught to have self-esteem. And apparently they have so much self-esteem that they think ‘you know what? I shouldn’t keep these thoughts to myself. I should share them with the world!’…Well, no your book is not as good as anyone else’s. Your life story would not make a good book. Don’t even try it.”
She doesn’t care what we think about current affairs, either. “You know on the news, when they put up the Twitter number – whatever it is, I don’t really understand – and say ‘we really want to know what you think?’ I think: ‘Do you? I really don’t'”.
I became a fan without reading her books – they were hard to come by in Midlands’ bookshops in the early 1980s so I had to make do with newspaper articles and the occasional profile. It seems as though they are still a minority interest – there are three second-hand copies of Social Studies listed on Amazon, prices from £116. Metropolitan Life retails at a slightly more affordable £29 but second-hand copies again, so I assume she’s out of print here. I ordered the collected essays to read straight away, but will resume my second-hand bookshop-scouring until I find the originals.
Watch the film, you won’t be disappointed. Who wouldn’t warm to a woman who can say: “Whether people seek my advice or not, it’s really pleasurable knowing everything. I’m sure that people think ‘she doesn’t know everything’. They’re wrong”.