Last night, Candace Bushnell appeared at New York's St. John store along with Tina Brown to promote The Carrie Diaries, to discuss "sex, success, and shoes" — and, as it turned out, to offer her thoughts on this very blog.
After minimal mingling with the dressed-to-the-nines crowd, I took a pink cocktail and a seat between a besuited gentleman (there were a surprising number of these) and a girl in formal shorts. An emcee introduced Bushnell as a writer who had "changed the women think about sex, success, and shoes," which turned out to pretty well encapsulate the evening's conversation. After the obligatory Carrie-isn't-really-me segment, Bushnell went on to name a key influence for the young-adult Carrie Diaries: The Bell Jar, specifically "the early scenes before she goes crazy." But another statement revealed a perhaps more apt comparison. Of Carrie, Bushnell remarked, "I've always thought of her as an everygirl" — which is exactly what a Hills fan once said to me about Lauren Conrad (now, of course, a YA author in her own right). I'm not sure if Plath is Sex and the City's most obvious antecedent, but the Hills, with its glossy female leads and relationship-deconstructing brunches, is certainly one of its heirs.
Bushnell had some interesting things to say about how society has changed since she first came to New York in the late seventies. Then, she said, being a working woman meant "sexual harassment was part of your everyday experience." Tina Brown somewhat tastelessly tried to attribute this to Bushnell's attractiveness, quipping, "some people weren't so lucky" — but Bushnell maintained, to her credit, that the problem was universal. She clearly wanted to talk about her books in terms of "bigger themes" in women's lives — she mentioned, for instance, the difficulty of forging an identity in the face of changing mores about sex and marriage. But despite these gestures toward sociology and psychology, more material concerns were never far from view — the first question from the audience was, "What are you wearing?"
Bushnell gamely answered this one (her heels were Miu Miu), but was a little less pleased with my question about the development of Carrie's feminism (something she's addressed before). She asked if I'd read the book (I hadn't), then added, "I know you're writing things down," (I was) and, "I know you're with the Wall Street Journal" (I'm, uh, not). Then she suggested I email her. Later, in the book-signing line, I revealed my actual affiliation, and she said I was probably going to write something mean, and that Jezebel "always gets it wrong." Whether we'll do so with The Carrie Diaries remains to be seen, but as I exited St. John and walked down 5th Ave., I felt sort of elated. A good portion of the talk that evening had revolved around women and their jobs, and if my workday includes a pink cocktail and a personal tongue-lashing from Candace Bushnell, I feel pretty lucky.