Is literacy the new tiny sunglasses?
This week, the Daily Mail published a series of photos of Kendall Jenner and model Luka Sabbat sunbathing and reading at Cannes. The treasure trove of images (thank the Daily Mail, as always, for doing entirely too much) was published as proof that the newly-single Jenner “shows little sign of heartache” following her split from basketball player Ben Simmons. But the pictures of Jenner lying down, sitting up, putting her hair up, taking a phone call, and reading a book are more than just evidence that KJ is reclaiming her single time. In fact the shots, specifically of Jenner and Sabbat’s reading material, are the best evidence we have of a Kardashian’s rich interior life since Kylie Jenner started realizing stuff. Rather than stuffing her Cannes suitcase with Pepsi cans and tabloids, Jenner packed herself a copy of Darcie Wilder’s literally show me a healthy person. Next to her Sabbat, a 21-year-old “Creative Entrepreneur exploring all the world has to offer,” can be seen digging into what looks to be beloved multi-hyphenate Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You.
This reading material is shockingly, strikingly cool.
Wilder is an internet-famous writer whose debut novel was “born on Twitter,” according to The Verge. They further described literally show me a healthy person as “97 pages of full-throttle disclosure, complete with semi-obvious booze, cum, and heartbreak details, as well as less-obvious 9/11 jokes and quips about what it feels like to lose a parent.” Their write-up continued, “Taken piece by piece, it’s hundreds of bits of hard-to-stomach flash fiction. But as a whole, it’s a gritty, moving portrait of grief and the chaos it kicks off in people’s brains.”
“Gritty” is not a word that would appear to apply to any part of Kendall Jenner’s life—a woman whose recent Proactiv ad campaign was teased as “her most raw story.”
In an interview with Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Wilder gathered that her unconventional novel is “not something to grab before you hop on a flight and comfortably breeze through.” So the fact that supermodel Kendall Jenner decided that Wilder’s work would be the perfect thing to pick up poolside at Cannes suggests that Jenner might be a far more complex, darker person than fans previously imagined; that, or she’s a celebrity who wanted to be photographed with a “hip” book and had no idea what she was getting into. As Wilder tweeted in response to the pap pics, “she doesn’t look like she’s enjoying reading it.”
With no warning, we have been thrust into a brave new world where Kendall Jenner processes her break-up like a twentysomething-year-old who lives in Ridgewood. As one friend texted me, “I guess rich people want to be depressed and interesting too.” Another noted that the pics stink of feigned relatability—purposefully generating content that’s just begging to be tweeted out with an “it me.” Still, like Melania Trump encountering a particularly enigmatic beluga whale, these pictures seem destined to leave fans wondering: what is she thinking? Staged or not, they hint at KJ’s unplumbed depths—a total 180 from our previous perception of Kendall Jenner as someone who was easily duped into believing that Pepsi is the antidote to police brutality.
To be fair, in a 2014 interview Kendall swore that her favorite novel is Animal Farm, which is equally confounding.
This is just the latest example of rampant intellectualism within Jenner’s A-list cohort. In March, the New York Post picked up on the Hadid sisters’ penchant for strutting around with great works, declaring, “Bella and Gigi Hadid make books the hot new accessory of 2019.”
In two arresting photographs, the Hadids were snapped wearing suits with somber expressions, and toting copies of Stephen King’s The Outsider and Albert Camus’ The Stranger. It’s hard to fathom what possibly possessed Gigi Hadid, a woman who once revealed that she paints “really detailed mugs” in her downtime, to crack open Camus’ absurdist classic. And while Bella’s thriller isn’t quite as highbrow, it still puts the woman behind the grand unified theory of whether or not homeboy could get it in a new light. Confronted with these two bibliophiles, Harry Styles fans were quick to inform the Post that the former One Directioner has been hauling books around since way back. As one Twitter user wrote, “Harry’s been carrying books for years now and somehow didn’t get the credit he deserves.” Styles has even read Sontag, which apparently sets him apart from most of the celebs who attended the recent camp-themed Met Gala.
Given the complicated web of platonic and romantic threads connecting these young stars, it’s fascinating to imagine that, instead of fucking or fighting, they’ve been debating philosophy and scheduling their next book club meeting this whole time. Of course, Kendall Jenner and Harry Styles didn’t invent performative book-holding. Last month, The New Yorker highlighted the long history of “celebrities wielding books.” Rosa Lyster recalled some classics of the genre, like Britney Spears holding Candide, Lindsay Lohan clutching the Quran, and Paris Hilton embracing The Power of Now, writing, “These book choices are a little message in a bottle, an Easter egg for the discerning viewer, a request to be understood and reconsidered.”
Of course, the most powerful example of celebrities embracing the literary canon is then-38-year-old Bradley Cooper reading Lolita in the park with 21-year-old girlfriend Suki Waterhouse. In the 2013 photographs, Cooper rests on his girlfriend’s lap while deeply engrossed in Nabokov. Occasionally, he’ll break to share passages with his paramour. It’s another instance of a social media model being introduced to a serious piece of literature, except with the added dimension of truly creepy parallelism. Imagining a patronizing Cooper walking Waterhouse through his favorite prose only adds to the tableau. Whether Cooper is being deliberately provocative with his reading choice or just can’t get enough Humbert Humbert, this photo series is undeniably its own work of art.
Kendall Jenner should get a library card, because she has a lot of catching up to do.