It sounds like something out of a pulp novel, or an old pulp magazine: a girl gang on the streets of New York, playing hooky on hot summer afternoons to hang out in Central Park and lie half-naked on the grass reading tough crime stories and “dirty” books, prompting raised eyebrows from all the squares who spy them …
But this isn’t the fantasy of some Beat-era penny-a-word hack writer, it’s the very real book club a group of us created three summers ago. We call it the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, and we’re proud to be blowing the cobwebs off some great reading material and classic artwork while also taking advantage of the 20-year-old legal ruling that says girls can go topless anywhere in the state of New York that guys can.
What’s that again? Yes: women in New York are free to bare their breasts anywhere and anytime a man can. Check out this New York Times article about it from just a couple of days ago.
But the fact that women can do it legally doesn’t mean that anyone ever does – it’s just too weird, too bold, too sexual, too…not done.
Until we came along.
Back in the sweltering summer of 2011, sweating under two layers of fabric (shirt, bra) while our male friends sunned and played Frisbee bare-chested, my friends and I decided to become outlaws, or the next best thing. Being voracious readers, we decided our group would be a book club – and we chose pulp fiction as our genre because a) it’s great fun, b) it’s sexy and provocative, and c) the artwork tends to feature beautiful rendered illustrations of women wearing as little as we planned to have on. We carried some classic 25-cent paperbacks and some newer titles from the great modern pulp imprint Hard Case Crime to the middle of Central Park and, in a crowd of hundreds, proudly whipped off our tops.
Did police whistles blow? No; not even wolf whistles did. New Yorkers are a jaded bunch, or like to appear so, and mostly people passed by us with only the smallest of double-takes and smiles. But it’s not like no one’s taken notice since. The Daily News wrote us up, and so did the Village Voice and New York magazine and Cosmopolitan — and a couple hundred websites. Our blog, which features photos of us reading sans brassiere, has been visited more than 3 million times. (Sorry, mom and dad…) And we’ve gotten to read some delicious works of pulp fiction that made our pulse race even faster than taking our shirts off in front of 3 million strangers did.
We even got to meet some hardcore book and art collectors, who gave us a chance to explore their private collections: signed books by Raymond Chandler; original paintings from some of the old-time books we read. It was a privilege to pose with them and we’re delighted to share some of those photos with you.
We’re very proud to be striking a blow for equality and against body-shame – but we’re just as proud to be bringing some much deserved attention back to a type of storytelling (both textual and visual) that too few people these days know and appreciate.
Brilliant books, beautiful women, not too many clothes. What more could anyone want?