Have you ever attended a book reading and wondered to yourself whether it might be better if Philip Roth or A.S. Byatt were naked? No? Well, what if they were beautiful burlesque dancers? Ah…
Enter Naked Girls Reading. This self-explanatorily named group performs public readings of everything from bedtime stories to poetry to traditional classics entirely in the buff. These, uh, literary expositions began in Chicago but quickly caught on in a number of major cities across the country. Friday night saw the very first show by the New York City chapter, with the appropriate theme of “banned books.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, Ray Bradbury, and Joseph Heller are only some of the big-name authors whose works were performed on a lushly adorned stage by sparsely adorned lectors. Appropriately racy selections included Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but most of the performance was a tongue-in-cheek look at the absurdity of censorship, including a genuinely hilarious reading of the Comics Code of 1954 that states that “nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure” and “females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.”
Michelle L’amour, the creator of Naked Girls Reading and a former contestant on America’s Got Talent, says the idea went through a number of permutations before she decided it needed to be done as a live “salon-style” reading. “I realized that there’s something important and beautiful in reading aloud, naked or not, that you really don’t get from just reading by yourself,” she says.
But she quickly found that public oration made her feel exposed in an entirely new way: “It’s so, so nerve-racking. Not being naked, but reading in front of everyone. It’s a totally different kind of exhibitionism.”
The group’s next New York gig will be in December, with a dramatic interpretation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and while it’s easily one of the most frequently adapted stories of all time, I can almost guarantee that you’ve yet to see it done like this. And to make sure that everyone’s happy, Jonny Porkpie, Friday night’s organizer, says he is hoping to put together a “Naked Guys Reading” event sometime in the near future. For some reason, though, I don’t think it will be held at Barnes & Noble.