I Used to Be Charming

Eve Babitz


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The New York Review of Books, Inc
8 October 2019
ISBN: 9781681373799
360 pages

From the publisher

With Eve’s Hollywood Eve Babitz lit up the scene in 1974. The books that followed, among them Slow Days, Fast Company and Sex and Rage, have seduced generations of readers with their unfailing wit and impossible glamour. What is less well known is that Babitz was a working journalist for the better part of three decades, writing for the likes of Rolling StoneVogue, and Esquire, as well as for off-the-beaten-path periodicals like Wet: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing and Francis Ford Coppola’s short-lived City. Whether profiling Hollywood darlings, getting to the bottom of health crazes like yoga and acupuncture, remembering friends and lovers from her days hobnobbing with rock stars at the Troubadour and art stars at the Ferus Gallery, or writing about her beloved, misunderstood hometown, Los Angeles, Babitz approaches every assignment with an energy and verve that is all her own.

I Used to Be Charming gathers nearly fifty pieces written between 1975 and 1997, including the full text of Babitz’s wry book-length investigation into the pioneering lifestyle brand Fiorucci. The title essay, published here for the first time, recounts the accident that came close to killing her in 1996; it reveals an uncharacteristically vulnerable yet never less than utterly charming Babitz.


One of the truly original writers of 20th-century Los Angeles.
—Kevin Dettmar, The Atlantic

There’s something divine about Babitz’s vision of the world, mixed with some incandescent undercurrent of delusion—sordid, surreal, and alienated from reality. . . . Every essay lurches as unpredictably as Babitz’s prose, toggling rapidly between sneering and leering. But even when Babitz leers, it’s like the Pope waving through the glass of his Popemobile: her leering conveys a blessing.
—Heather Havrilevsky, Air Mail

Zesty essays by a sly observer . . . [Babitz] gathers nearly 40 personal essays, book reviews, travel pieces, and celebrity profiles, published between 1976 and 1997, that give ebullient testimony to her colorful, star-studded past . . . A spirited, entertaining collection.

As clearly as a great snapshot, [Babitz’s] best passages capture fleeting sensations, particularly pleasurable ones. . . . The [title] essay wryly tracks these surges of pleasure and desire, even as pain threatens to overwhelm every other feeling. As in the best of Babitz’s earlier work, you can almost feel the agony of her physical therapy and almost taste the tuna sandwich that is the first food she truly craves after surgery.
—Megan Marz, The Times Literary Supplement

Eve Babitz has done as much as anyone (except maybe the very different Joan Didion) to define an L.A. state of mind. She’s fun to read and her essays stay with you for weeks after you read them, teasing your mind with insight after indelible insight.< br/>—Michael Silverblatt, KCRW, “Best of 2019: Books”

After all these years it seems Babitz is finally the literary ‘It’ girl she always thought herself to be.
—Merle Ginsberg, Los Angeles Magazine

There’s Adam, and then there is of course Eve Babitz. There are those who call her a party girl, but in truth she documented her times and social world in Southern California as if she was Charles Dickens. Or perhaps Marcel Proust.
—Tosh Berman

The most charming writer I’ve read in years.
—Geoff Dyer, The Threepenny Review

A writer who’s given a steep amount of pleasure over the past year. That writer is the Los Angeles–born glamour girl, bohemian, artist, muse, sensualist, wit and pioneering foodie Eve Babitz, whose prose reads like Nora Ephron’s by way of Joan Didion, albeit with more lust and drugs and tequila.
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

Eve is to prose what Chet Baker, with his light, airy style, lyrical but also rhythmic, detached but also sensuous, is to jazz, or what Larry Bell, with his glass confections, the lines so clean and fresh and buoyant, is to sculpture. She’s a natural. Or gives every appearance of being one, her writing elevated yet slangy, bright, bouncy, cheerfully hedonistic—L.A. in its purest, most idealized form.
—Lili Anolik, Vanity Fair

If her books are any indication, she seems to have known more about life at an early age than most of us figure out before we die.
—Holly Brubach, The New York Times

One of the best writers about LA in American literature.
—Laura Pearson, Chicago Tribune

Her writing took multiple forms, from romans à clef to essayistic cultural commentaries to reviews to urban-life vignettes to short stories. But in the center was always Babitz and her sensibility—fun and hot and smart, a Henry James–loving party girl.
—Naomi Fry, The New Republic

Babitz thought she’d die at thirty; she’s now 78 and witnessing her own resurrection. Youth was not wasted on her, and she crammed her life into her sentences. . . . She made showing off a sort of politeness—an obligation to give the reader a good time.
—Lucie Elven, London Review of Books