Literary Fashionables: The Showman and The Muse

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Two further reasons to drop your day job and write full time rather than watch all this literary glamor ringside are Jonathan Ames and Sophie Dahl. Unless, of course, you don’t have a hit show on HBO, Dave Letterman calling you for repeat visits, Mick Jagger at your heels, or the legacy of a literary legend to fall back on. Despite all these perks beheld by our next two literary fashionables, Ames and Dahl have gotten and remained where they are, not on their fair looks alone. Though those didn’t hurt. Neither did their peculiar flair for spectacle.

THE SHOWMAN

And in the left corner is Jonathan “The Herring Wonder” Ames!  Every writer has their side-passions (the lucky ones for whom writing doesn’t have to be relegated to “side-passion”). Jonathan Ames’s happens to be boxing—and the occasional noir novel.  Ames briefs us on his boxing skills in his non-fiction essays in the books My Less Than Secret Life and most recently in The Double Life Is Twice as Good. In 2007 Ames drew onlookers to a boxing match between himself and fellow writer Craig Davidson, in the crowd was his then girlfriend Fiona Apple and frequently written about friend “The Mangina,” appropriately attired in his standard unitard and fake vagina.

But while boxing only leaves Ames with a bloodied nose, the topic of mystery seems to be the passion that’s more accessible to laypeople, esp. laypeople who watch a lot of television. Ames’s most recent efforts include the creation of the HBO noir comedy series “Bored to Death,”  in which an often corduroy-jacketed Jason Schwarzmann stars as a writer named Jonathan Ames who lives in Brooklyn and is a self-taught private detective, a job which frequently lands him in the arms of one or another sexy woman. The series is based on one of Ames’s short stories—but while “Ames” doesn’t do much writing on the show, many events seem to be drawn from real life, the aforementioned boxing match, per se, and perhaps the glamorous parties he attends with his editor (though they stand in odd contrast to most NY literary events).  This past January The Extra Man, a film starring Kevin Kline and Paul Dano, adapted from Ames’s fictional novel of the same name, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Inveterate showman that he is, Jonathan Ames once had a popular one-man show off-off Broadway entitled Oedipussy sharing with his audience tales from his perverted mind.  Other frequent topics include his New Jersey-based parents, a son he fathered at a young age and his Queens-based Aunt, who coined the title I Love You More Than You Know, a collection of columns from Ames’s days at The New York Press.

While Ames would stand as a literary fashionable for his loveable essays and crafty ploys for attention alone, he is quite the fop in his workaday Brooklyn life.  With his fashion tastes drawn from the era of the Fitzgeralds–he is often pictured in bespoke seersucker–Ames has proven to be a most fashionable literary.

THE MUSE

Sophie Dahl was The Big Friendly Giant’s tiny little helper.  Well, not exactly. But she inspired the character of the same name in her Grandfather Roald Dahl’s popular children’s story The BFG.  Sophie Dahl was born into a long lineage of actors and writers, and her mother Tessa Dahl is an author as well. Though she began her professional life as a model in the fashion world proper (the only one of our literary fashionables to bear the distinction), Dahl has as of late toed the family line with three books to her credit.

Although small in stature in the realm of her grandfather’s fantasy, in reality Sophie Dahl is indeed the opposite.  At 18, the 5’11 Dahl was discovered by Isabella Blow, a Vogue stylist, and started booking jobs for Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire, to name a few.  Dahl was known for her “real woman” curves, something generally frowned on in the modeling industry.  After overcoming anorexia in high school Dahl learned to embrace her body and was quoted in 2000, after the release of a controversial ad for Opium perfume, saying, “I am being seen as anti women when in fact I think it is very empowering to women.”

Dahl is currently a regular columnist for British Vogue and frequently contributes to American Vogue.  Her recent novel Playing With Grown Ups was noted for its style as a fictional memoir.  The novel’s main character, Kitty, recalls scenes from her childhood that explore her relationship with her mother and the parties they attended, at which her mother would cut guests lines of cocaine.  An otherwise ordinary childhood, the details of which were almost too precise to be fictional.

Dahl’s latest effort, a cookbook called Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights, a playful title worthy of grandfather Dahl, should convince doubtful minds that she is over any of her adolescent body-image issues, and overturns the old rumors that models never eat.

Much like her mother and grandfather, Dahl lives a seemingly charmed life. Before settling down with musician Jamie Cullum, Dahl dated Mick Jagger and Benecio Del Toro. Hopefully, Dahl will continue to keep the literary and fashionable elements that come naturally to her in good balance.

Related Posts:

Literary Fashionables #1: The Absurdist and The Word-Portraitist

Literary Fashionables #2: The Cultural Theorist and The Sportsman

Literary Fashionables #3: The Junky and The New Journalist


Caitlin Colford is a New York City based actress and writer. She blogs short stories over at caitypoops.wordpress.com and is currently hard at work on her first novel "The Obituary Hunter." More from this author →