Marilyn Monroe was the type of girl I would have actively sought to befriend. Die-hard fans and biographers report that she had over 400 books in her possession, including novels by James Joyce and of course a few by her husband Arthur Miller. A quick search of rare pictures of Marilyn show hundreds of images of her coyly curled up with a novel, oblivious to the ever-present camera scrutinising her. It makes sense, what better escape from an overwhelming reality than in a book?
The problem is that Marilyn Monroe’s bookish tendencies come as a surprise to many.
Feminist biographer Oline Eaton rants on her Finding Jackie blog about the millions of search results that come up for ‘Marilyn Monroe reading.’
There is, within Monroe’s image, a deeply rooted assumption that she was an idiot, a vulnerable and kind and loving and terribly sweet idiot, but an idiot nonetheless. That is the assumption in which ‘Marilyn Monroe reading’ is entangled.
The power of the phrase ‘Marilyn Monroe reading’ lies in its application to Monroe and in our assumption that she wouldn’t know how.
The image of Marilyn Monroe reading is obsessed over because the idea of a pretty, sexy girl reading classics such as James Joyce is seen as adorable, divergent from the norm. It rejects the idea that women can be many things at once, that they don’t need to be confined to being ‘pretty’ or ‘clever.’ Because the stereotyping works both ways – just as beautiful women aren’t expected to be intelligent; intelligent women are obligated to renounce preoccupations with superficial pursuits of beauty and fashion. The question – which is what is what Bookish is all about – is what if we want to be both?