Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Review - Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object

Title: Live Nude Girl

Author: Kathleen Rooney

Publisher: University of Arkansas Press

# of Pages: 165

This review is based on an advanced reader's edition.

Favorite Line: We are drawn to- but baffled by- the experience of other people, thwarted by our inability to ever know what it is like to be someone else, but compelled by the duty we feel as humans to at least try.

Book Description Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object is a lively meditation on the profession of art modeling as it has been practiced in history and as it is practiced today. Kathleen Rooney draws on her own experiences working as an artist's model, as well as the famous, notorious, and mysterious artists and models through the ages. Through a combination of personal perspective, historical anecdote, and witty prose, Live Nude Girl reveals that both the appeal of posing nude for artists and the appeal of drawing the naked figure lie in our deeply human responses to beauty, sex, love, and death.

This is a difficult review to write for a myriad of reasons. One- I know the author. She is the elder sister of a very good friend of mine and has more recently become one of my friends as well. Tricky, tricky. Two- this is not the sort of book I usually read. I didn't realize before trying to start this review just how subjective my scoring system is. I rate books in relation to similar books that I have already read and rank them accordingly. I have never read another book like this one- a mixture of scholarship and memoir. And so I don't really know how to rate it.

Live Nude Girl challenged me in ways that I haven't been challenged since high school literature classes. Rooney quotes ancient Greeks, references Leonardo da Vinci, sets her book to a soundtrack of indie rock bands, and shares her own thoughts on what it's like to be a nude model for artists. The book is much more about people's perceptions of beauty and of art than it is about Rooney's experience of being a model. Rooney seems to be trying to figure out why she wanted to be a model by writing the book, rather than share the actual experience with readers. Towards the end of the book, she says, "I haven't made any single Big Self-Discovery or arrived at any exclusive Life-Changing Knowledge over the course of my art modeling career... So I don't know how good of a story my experiences make, lacking, as they do, both a clear climax and a natural endpoint."

At this point in the book, I paused (though there wasn't much point, as I was practically at the end), and wondered why an author would write a story when she herself admitted to a lack of climax or resolution. But really, Live Nude Girl is not so much a story as it is ruminations and stream of consciousness. For example, there is a lot of talk on how Rooney wants to be perceived as "pretty" by the artists she poses for. And then she wonders why she wants them to see her as pretty. And why people, in general, want to be perceived as pretty. And then shares quotes from famed and esteemed philosophers and writers. It sometimes made the book difficult to read, as I would go into and out of quotes and deep thoughts and all the rest. But it was interesting, nonetheless.

I don't think this is a book one can read all at once- it may be slim, but it is dense. Each chapter can stand as an essay on its own, and in retrospect, I recommend reading the book in that manner so that you can better mull over the ideas Rooney presents. And there are a lot of ideas presented, from the "nude model vs. loose woman" debate to the "artist's perception of the model vs. the model as she really is" debate. It's a thinking person's book- and it was fun to read it and be challenged by reading again, in ways I haven't been for so long.


  1. Very thought provoking review. It sounds like there is a lot to explore in this book. I like the fact that the author attempts to understand the social perception of "pretty". I have been musing on that a lot lately. Might have to give this one a try.

  2. What an interesting topic to write a book on - I've always wondered why anyone would want to be a model, but especially an art model...

    And what a brave reviewer to review a friend's book! :)

  3. I'm doing a rhetorical analysis of the bit of this first published in Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers with the students who work for me in the Writing Center, and while looking it up to find out more about the context of its first publication, found this review!


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