Naked Girls Reading founder Michelle L’Amour reads from Fahrenheit 451—Photograph by Beau Allulli, used with permission
“I probably shouldn’t say this,” Gigi LaFemme said as she approached the mic, “but I’m actually really nervous. So I’m picturing you all naked.” And the crowd erupted with laughter.
Because Gigi, like all of the women on stage upstairs at Madame X on Friday night, was wearing only high heels and body glitter. It was the New York premier of Naked Girls Reading, a salon reading series founded in Chicago earlier this year that has already spread to five cities across the US, and is about to make its international debut.
The concept is perfectly summed up by its title. At the beginning of the evening, seven women, six performers from New York’s Pinchbottom Burlesque troupe and special guest Michelle L’Amour, founder of Naked Girls Reading, walked on stage, promptly dropped their robes, and sat demurely on couches and upholstered chairs. One by one, each rose and read to the vocally appreciative audience from books they chose and personally loved.
Last Friday’s theme was banned books, and there were readings from erotic classics Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Delta of Venus, as well as from books banned for non-sexual controversies like The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird. Host Nasty Canasta kicked off the night by reading from the Comics Code of 1954, which stated the figures of authority were always shown to be virtuous, that divorce should never be shown as desirable, and of course, nudity was “strictly forbidden.”
The effect on the crowd, mostly couples, was intoxicating. During the erotic readings, there were hoots and hollers. When Jo Boobs read a shockingly explicit passage from 1748’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, involving two women holding a third’s legs wide apart for the pleasure of a young man, the catcalls came loud and fast. But during the non-erotic readings, the audience fell into rapt attention. Gal Friday’s staccato, deadpan reading of American Psycho was an electric thrill of watching a broken mind at work.
But the performance of the night belonged to Sapphire Jones, who read the Death of Snowden scene from Catch-22. Standing tall and straight as a lamppost, with light inflection and perfect rhythm, Sapphire evoked the bleak sorrow of Yossarian’s inability to save, or even comfort, the dying Snowden beyond feebly repeating “There, there. There, there.” That she was tall, trim, and not wearing a stitch of clothing meant very little by the end of her reading, compared to the stark beauty of Joseph Heller’s devastating prose.
Rather than end the evening on such a powerful but distinctly down-note, Nasty Canasta returned with a reading from 2009’s most banned book of the year, a sharp reminder that the suppression of literature is a continuing problem. The book, And Tango Makes Three, is a children’s picture book about Roy and Silo, the two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who successfully hatched and raised a chick. Nasty’s enthusiastic, schoolmarm reading brought the house down.
Host Nasty Canasta reads from And Tango Makes Three—Photograph by Beau Allulli, used with permission
Originally founded because Michelle L’Amour enjoyed reading naked and her fiancée enjoyed watching her read naked, and the realization other men and women might feel the same way, Naked Girls Reading has clearly evolved into something more than just titillation. It is titillating, but after the first thrill of the initial disrobing, the pleasure of seeing beautiful women undressed fades besides the sense of intimacy achieved from someone bearing both their body and their soul at the same time. It was a remarkable experience.
Naked Girls Reading has upcoming events in Chicago, Dallas, Key West, and Madison, and is coming soon to Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, Wisconsin, and Sao Paulo. The next New York event, on December 9th, is A Christmas Carol, from Charles Dicken’s original performance text. It promises to be quite an improvement on the Jim Carrey version.
Steven Padnick enjoys naked girls and reading.