Back in October, Steven Padnick blogged about a saucy series of literary events out of Chicago that was in the process of spawning offshoots in other cities around the country: Naked Girls Reading, in which a panel of skyclad female readers tackled thematically linked works for an audience of interested auditors. Early evenings in the run included “Naked Girls Reading Banned Books,” “Naked Girls Reading the Constitution,” and “Naked Girls Reading Poetry.”
This past week, the New York branch, led by burlesque performer and self-described geek Nasty Canasta, devoted two nights to “Naked Girls Reading Science Fiction.”
The evening, held at a downtown performance space filled with crimson couches and overstuffed divans, began with Ms. Canasta reading from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, her theatrical background serving her well as she skillfully brought Wells’ 1895 prose to life. There followed a snippet from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the first of four peppered throughout the evening, read in a droll British drawl by Ms. Tickle, who came to the microphone wearing a blue wig so magnificent it might better be described as a headdress.
A double-moniker’d newcomer to the series, calling herself “Barbara Gordon (The Naked Librarian)”—who by day is, in fact, a librarian—followed with a battle training scene from the original 1977 novelette version of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game.” She returned after the intermission with a special treat: the Arthur Yorinks/Mort Drucker alien invasion picture book Tomatoes From Mars, which she read in proper librarian fashion, holding the book to one side with its pages spread so the listeners gathered at her feet could look at the illustrations. (“I’ve done this book many times,” she said, “but normally you’re children and I’m wearing clothes.”)
Between Ender and the tomatoes, the audience enjoyed another brief appearance by the hostess, as Ms. Canasta read the first full articulation of the Three Laws of Robotics, from Isaac Asimov’s short story “Runaround”; and then Madame Rosebud, decked out for the occasion in combat boots and a blond mohawk, delivered a pair of passages from Joy Parks’ short story “Instinct,” from the 2006 collection The Future Is Queer.
Finishing off the evening: a goodly chunk of Chapter 17 from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (“‘I claim them all,’ said the Savage at last”), delivered with passion by Sapphire Jones, and a not-a-dry-eye-in-the-house performance of Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer In a Day,” read by Ms. Canasta.
The standing room only crowd—at a glance, roughly evenly split between men and women, and with cross- and same-gender pairs slightly outnumbering singles—was responsive and appreciative throughout and greeted the finale with a well-deserved ovation.
Temperatures were kept balmy, in deference to the tireless readers’ attirelessness, and libations flowed freely, although not for free.
On tap for next month: “Naked Girls Reading Tween Lit,” including Twilight, though whether the text is to be treated seriously or mockingly remains to be seen.
(Full disclosure: Last year I published a book by Nasty Canasta’s burlesque performer husband, Jonny Porkpie; and Nasty was kind enough to pose for the cover. But that doesn’t change the fact that her performances in NGRSF knocked my socks off. And isn’t removing articles of clothing what it’s all about?)
Charles Ardai is the Edgar and Shamus Award winning author of novels such as Fifty-To-One, Little Girl Lost, and Songs of Innocence as well as founder and editor of Hard Case Crime and its companion series, The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt. In a previous life, he created the Internet service Juno.